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Russian military modernisation: everything old is new again

17 Jan 2017|

In a recent article for The Strategist, I showed how Russia’s economic woes are negatively affecting plans to modernise the country’s military. In order to be thrifty, Moscow has, for the most part, been investing in modernised or upgraded versions of existing platforms, rather than waiting for altogether new platforms like the Armata tank or PAK-FA fighter to enter service. Most of the Russian Armed Forces’ equipment is of Cold War vintage, and their priority appears to be an increase in the volume of modern equipment in service, rather than introducing revolutionary new capabilities.

It’s telling that the 2011–20 State Armaments Program’s major benchmarks emphasised the percentage of modern equipment in service: 30% of total by 2015 and 70% by 2020. Their success in that pursuit has been mixed, and exact numbers are hard to find, but the share of modern equipment in service has clearly been increasing.

Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister said in April 2016 that the military had received some 1,200 ‘new and modernised aircraft’ since 2013—250 new planes, 300 new helicopters and 700 modernised aircraft. Essentially all the new fixed-wing combat aircraft are modern derivatives of 1980s Soviet-era aircraft: the Su-27 ‘Flanker’ (Su-30; Su-35 and Su-33), Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’, MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ (including the forthcoming MiG-35) and the MiG-31 ‘Foxhound’. These ‘4th generation’ airframes outfitted with modern, digital avionics and sensors are commonly referred to as 4.5 generation fighters, and lack the intrinsic design features of 5th generation aircraft like the F-35.

Ambitions for a 5th generation Russian fighter, the PAK-FA, have been continually delayed due to high costs and intermittent support from development partner, India. Just eight prototypes of the vaunted aircraft exist today, and the latest plans expect to see just 12 production aircraft acquired by 2020. Production lines for the Su-35 or MiG-35 are likely to benefit from the PAK-FA’s shortcomings, as well as continuing export demand for Russian 4.5 generation fighters.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; in fact, it’s a practical and cost-effective plan. The US Navy began transitioning from the 80s-era F/A-18 Hornet to the modern Super Hornet in the early 2000s. Those 4.5 generation fighters are, by all accounts, still very capable and require less development than brand new airframes would. And given that both of the US military’s 5th generation fighter programs have suffered significant setbacks, it’s easy to see why Russia opted for a less risky path, though it’s not without opportunity cost.

Russia’s naval modernisation plans have progressed much more slowly. Of the 108 surface combatants in service today, nearly three-quarters are over 25 years old. Efforts to build modern surface combatants have focused on relatively smaller ships: since 2010, 11 corvettes and two frigates have been commissioned, with another 12 corvettes due to enter service by 2019. But Moscow’s interference in Ukraine’s civil war led the Ukrainians to cease exports of vital naval gas turbines to Russia. Of the six frigates in various stages of completion, only three have the turbines they’ll need to operate, creating headaches for the Russian Navy.

Of 20 large surface combatants (destroyer or larger, including the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier/cruiser), only two were commissioned in the latter half of the 90s, and none have been built since. A further three destroyers are being kept in reserve, but if they return to service, they’d likely replace older warships rather than add to the overall size of the fleet.

Likewise, two of the enormous 80s-era Kirov-class ‘battlecruisers’ have been kept in reserve, one of which—the Admiral Nahkimov—is undergoing modernisation. By 2020, the Nahkimov will replace the Pyotr Veliky as flagship of the Northern Fleet, while the latter undergoes a period of maintenance and modernisation. A new class of Russian large surface combatant, the ‘Leader class’, is reported to begin construction in the early 2020s, but no contracts have yet been signed.

The submarine fleet is in a similar state, with most vessels dating back to the early 90s. Contemporary submarine construction has focused on an improved version of the 80s-era Kilo-class SSK. The Kilo has been a successful export product for Russia, with 16 of 22 improved Kilos in service with foreign navies. Recent emphasis has shifted to the Yasen-class nuclear submarine, with the second vessel of its class due to be launched this year. As well, the fourth ship of the Borei SSBN class will be launched this year. Both nuclear subs are iterative improvements on earlier ships in their class, resulting in the labels Yasen M-class and Borei II-class respectively.

Recent economic hardships appear to have driven the Russians further toward improved or upgraded platforms rather than the pursuit of entirely new platforms. But there’s no halt in the modernisation process, only a course adjustment. If anything, some services may be able to reach their modernisation goals even sooner thanks to dependable production lines. And late Cold War-era designs are still sufficiently deadly to be taken seriously, especially when equipped with modern sensors and weapons.


F-35 System Development and Demonstration (SDD) test delayed until at least 2018

The F-35 program is once again in trouble, with full flight tests delayed until at least 2018

By on January 17, 2017 at 3:33 pm

The Pentagon has released its end-of-year progress report on the F-35, and once again, the news isn’t very good. This is nothing new for the F-35, which has been bombarded by poor performance reviews, cost overruns, and directly subject to criticism by President-elect Donald Trump.

On paper, the F-35 is supposed to complete its System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and begin its Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) by August, 2017. SDD certification means the aircraft is in a mature state of development with demonstrated capabilities in live-fire exercises. IOT&E refers to “Dedicated operational test and evaluation conducted on production, or production representative articles, to determine whether systems are operationally effective and suitable, and which supports the decision to proceed Beyond Low Rate Initial Production (BLRIP).”

The Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) has been in SDD since 2001 and was expected to complete that process this year. That’s no longer going to happen. Instead, the report indicates the F-35 ” will not be able to start IOT&E with full combat capability until late CY18 or early CY19, at the soonest.” Here are some of the new reasons why:

  • Technology and system improvements have been rolled out to the F-35 program in what are known as “blocks.” Block 3F mission systems and development testing aren’t expected to be complete until July, 2018. Block 3F weapon testing and integration is also well behind schedule. The F-35B variant (that’s the short-takeoff and vertical-landing version developed for the Marines) won’t receive its flight envelope Block 3F full upgrade until the middle of 2018 if the current production schedule manages to hold;
  • There have been further delays to gun testing on all three platforms and recently discovered “gunsight deficiencies” have delayed this testing as well. The four-barrel, 25mm GAU-22/A cannon that the F-35 relies on also carries a laughable amount of ammunition — just 182 rounds for the F-35A, or 220 rounds in an external pod for the F-35B and F-35C. The A-10 Thunderbolt II carries 1,174 rounds for its 30mm GAU-8/A, while even the F-16’s 20mm M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon packs 511 rounds;
  • The F-35 has an extremely sophisticated computer system for managing mission payloads and hardware swap-outs, and estimating when various components have reached end-of-life. The system mostly doesn’t work yet. The Autonomic Logistics Information System is now expected to be ready by mid-2018. Similarly, Mission Data Loads — mission-specific target and sensor information loaded for particular types of operations — aren’t expected to be available until June, 2018.

The next few points are worth quoting in their entirety:

  • Significant, well-documented deficiencies; for hundreds of these, the program has no plan to adequately fix and verify with flight test within SDD; although it is common for programs to have unresolved deficiencies after development, the program must assess and mitigate the cumulative effects of these remaining deficiencies on F-35 effectiveness and suitability prior to finalizing and fielding Block 3F (emphasis added);
  • Overall ineffective operational performance with multiple key Block 3F capabilities delivered to date, relative to planned IOT&E scenarios, which are based on various fielded threat laydown;
  • Continued low aircraft availability and no indications of significant improvement, especially for the early production lot IOT&E aircraft;
  • Delays in completing the required extensive and time-consuming modifications to the fleet of operational test aircraft which, if not mitigated with an executable plan and contract, could significantly delay the start of IOT&E.

Reaping the whirlwind of concurrency

Part of the reason the F-35’s development costs and deployment times have exploded into such a boondoggle is because the Pentagon was smoking crack when it approved the aircraft’s development strategy. Ordinarily, we develop military hardware by building prototypes and fine-tuning capabilities and systems before we build those systems into aircraft. With the F-35, the government embraced the idea of building hardware while we had no idea how to implement its capabilities. Imagine breaking ground on a 200-story skyscraper if you had only a vague idea how to build anything above 120 stories. You’d be assuming that whatever techniques are required for constructing a 200-story building can be easily retrofitted into your 120-story model. If it turns out they can’t be, you’re going to eat the mother of all development overruns and delays while you retrofit the 120-story building for whatever improvements are required to finish it.

f35-fmc2These are not great numbers. Even grading on a curve.

That’s more-or-less what the Pentagon did with the F-35, and the report makes it clear just how stupid it were for trying it. Above, you can see the F-35’s stats across each variant (Standard, STVOL, catapult-assisted). MC means Mission Capable, or the percentage of F-35’s of that variant that can fly any mission, while FMC means Fully Mission Capable, or the percentage of F-35’s that can fly all intended missions. FMC capability varies depending on which “Block” the fighter belongs to, but while later fighter blocks have better ratings, there are also fewer of these fighters compared with earlier blocks:

Due to concurrent development and production, which resulted in delivering operational aircraft before the program has completed development and finalized the aircraft design, the Services must send the current fleet of F-35 aircraft to depot facilities. This is to receive modifications that have been designed since the aircraft were originally manufactured and are now required for full capability. Some of these modifications are driven by faults in the original design that were not discovered until after production had started, such as major structural components that do not meet the requirements for the intended lifespan, and others are driven by the continuing improvement of the design of combat capabilities that were known to be lacking when the aircraft were first built. These modifications are a result of the concurrency of production and development and cause the program to expend resources to send aircraft for major re-work, often multiple times… Since SDD will continue at least to the middle of 2018, and by then the program will have delivered nearly 200 aircraft to the Services in other than the 3F configuration, the depot modification program and its associated concurrency burden will be with the Services for years to come.

When the F-35 was laid down, the US Air Force promised that the aircraft would be in service until 2070, with full unit delivery not expected until 2037. I’d be stunned if the aircraft achieves anything like that level of success — given the cost overruns and scaling problems it seems far more likely that the Air Force will shift to deploying large numbers of various types of drones long before the government finishes its original procurement of F-35s. Today, it’s less a combat aircraft and more of a jobs package / flying bug report.

Original post


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Thailand may purchase T-90 tanks from Russia

Thailand, Russia Promote Defence Cooperation

BANGKOK, Jan 17 (Bernama) — Thailand and Russia have discussed the implementation of arms deals and defence industry cooperation during a meeting between Russian Ambassador to Thailand Kirill Barsky and Thai chief of the Defence Forces, General Surapong Suwana-adth in Bangkok, Tuesday.

According to the Thai army, at the meeting, the two sides discussed matters of shared interest, including developing the defence industry in Thailand, Vietnam news agency (VNA) reported.

Thai media stated that the country wants to purchase dozens of T-90 tanks from Russia. Thailand is also about to sign a counter-terrorism deal with Russia.

In 2016, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy PM, also Minister of Defence Prawit Wongsuwan visited Russia to bolster bilateral relations, promote arms deals and joint defence industry development.

During his visit in May 2016, Prayut placed an order for 10 Mi-17 transport helicopters from Russia for a total price of US$86 million.

The Russian helicopters will be deployed in addition to the army’s fleet of US-built CH-47 Chinook utility helicopters.

In late Feb last year, Prawit and Deputy Minister of Economy Somkid Jatusripitak visited Russia and Belarus, weeks after Director of the Russian Federal Security Service Nikolai Patrushev toured Thailand.


Original post


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Royal Thai Air Force Gripen cockpit voice recorder retrieved

Gripen cockpit voice recorder found

17 Jan 2017 at 00:26

A search team has retrieved the cockpit voice recorder of the Swedish-made Gripen JAS 39C that crashed and exploded during a Children’s Day air show in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district.

Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) spokesman AVM Pongsak Semachai said the device, officially known as a Crash Survivable Memory Unit, is instrumental to the crash investigation as authorities are working to determine the cause of the crash.

The accident took place last Saturday when one of the air force’s nine jet fighters taking part in the air show as part of Children’s Day activities at Wing 56 in Hat Yai in Songkhla province went down.

Sqn Ldr Dilokrit Pattavee, 34, a pilot from Surat Thani-based Wing 7, was killed in the crash.

AVM Pongsak said the cockpit voice recorder will be analysed as investigators piece together evidence from the crash site. The investigation is expected to be wrapped up in two months.

He said the search for the device, carried out by the RTAF’s Safety Centre, the Directorate of Aeronautical Engineering, and Directorate of Armament, was hampered by rain, but the team persisted.

The RTAF spokesman also criticised certain media outlets for publishing false information about the air force’s procurement of the Gripen jets, insisting it had been done by the book.

Original post



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Royal Thai Army to inspect new batch of OPLOT tanks prior to acceptance

Thai military inspectorate to accept new batch of Oplot tanks in Ukraine on Jan 16


The inspectorate of the Royal Thai Army on January 16 will start accepting the new batch of Oplot combat tanks in Ukraine made at Malyshev Plant (Kharkiv) under a contract to supply 49 tanks to Thailand signed in 2011, the press service of state-run enterprise Ukrspecexport has reported.

“The Thai delegation accepting the new batch of Oplot tanks will start on Monday [January 16]. The customers will look at the tanks at the various stages of production,” the company said.

Ukrspecexport said that under the mutual agreement of the sides the terms of completing the contract were moved to autumn 2017.

“The decision was made due to military actions in eastern Ukraine,” the press service said.

The contract to supply promising Ukrainian next generation armed vehicles to Thailand is being implemented in the conditions of tough competition on the global market.

Ukrspecexport said that Oplot tanks are competitive vehicles. Potential buyers from various countries showed their interest to buy them.

“Unfair rivals are hindering the arrival of the vehicles to the international market,” the company said.

Recently Thailand’s Bangkok Post reported with the reference to Commander-In-Chief of Thailand Armed Forces General Chalermchai Sittisat that Bangkok and Beijing are discussing expansion of defense cooperation.

Among promising directions is purchase of armored vehicles from China to replace U.S. M-41 tanks bought in the United States in 1957. Thailand has signed a contract to buy 28 Chinese VT-4 tanks and seeks to boost the supplies in 2017. Gen Chalermchai said that after problems with the delivery of 49 Oplot tanks ordered from Ukraine, the army committee which decides on military hardware procurements has opted to cut the number of tanks to be bought from Ukraine. The problem facing the Ukrainian supplier was due mainly to Ukraine’s internal situation, he said. However, the Ukrainian tank maker should be able to deliver all 49 tanks to the Thai army by October, 2017, according to Gen Chalermchai.

Some foreign media spread information that Thailand allegedly refused to buy Ukrainian Oplot tanks in favor of Chinese VT-4 tanks.

Original post


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