Soldiers of Battery A, 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, conduct an after actions review after an iteration of firing with the M109 Paladin Integrated Management Howitzer system, a proposed upgrade to the current M109A6 Paladin that is being tested for reliability, availability and maintainability. Photo: Sgt S. Harriman, U.S. Army
The absence of new programs provided exhibitors an opportunity to highlight improvement to existing platforms. Among the combat vehicles displayed at AUSA were the M-109 Paladin Improved Mobility (PIM) and Bradley, both included in the US Army’s Enhanced Capability Programs (ECP). Neither BAE its partner Northrop Grumman nor their competitor General Dynamics Land Systems and Lockheed martin provided much information on the next big thing for the Army – the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) although BAE did shed some light on the innovative hybrid electric propulsion system proposed for their GCV candidate.
Another Army program capturing much attention is the Advanced Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) – the planned replacement of the M-113, scheduled for the 2020. This program attracts significant interest in the US and abroad, with the potential for selling up to 3,800 tracked or wheeled vehicles to equip up to 15 Brigade Combat Teams (BCT). Improvements for the Stryker are also underway, following the introduction of the Double-V-Hull (DVH) modification, offering much improved protection.
BAE Systems is proposing a turretless configuration of the Bradley for the AMPV program. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update
The DVH increases the vehicles’ weight and to gain back performance, the engine, suspension and power generation systems will be upgraded. The Army might also consider another modification, converting the vehicle into electrically driven platform, by switching the current axle-drives with hub-in-wheel electrical motors. Parker unveiled such concept at AUSA 2012 and is planning to demonstrate this capability in the near future. The upgraded DVHStryker is also considered as a future M-113 replacement as one of the AMPV candidates. To beat the Army’s notional bias towards tracked platforms, GDLS displayed a tracked Stryker-TR concept vehicle at AUSA 2012. This vehicle used standard M-113 tracks mated with a Stryker body, without too much optimization. If the Army expresses interest in such option, the company would further optimize the vehicle, GDLS executives said, stressing that the upgraded wheeled Stryker can fully meet the AMPV requirements in terms of performance, sustainability and operating cost.
Other companies courting the Army for the AMPV included Textron Systems that recently rebranded its armored vehicle family as ‘Commando’. At AUSA the company had three variants of Commando on display. The Commando Advanced (formerly designated M-1117 ASV, where it was one of the first combat vehicles to have a V-shaped hull. Thousands are in service with the US and Iraqi Army. The new Commando Select was an upgrade of the ASV, offering MRAP-class mine and blast protection. 440 are currently built to equip the Afghan National Army mobile strike force. The Canadian Army recently selected the Commando Elite for the TAPV program. The vehicle offers MRAP Type-2 protection. Under this contract Textron will deliver 500 such vehicles between 2014 and 2016 and Canada has an option to buy 100 additional vehicles if needed. In October Rheinmetall Canada acting as the prime subcontractor was awarded C$205 million sub-contract for its share of the program. With more than a thousand M-1117s operational with the US Army, the Commando could prove a logical entry for the AMPV.
Nexter displayed the XP-2 technology demonstrator at AUSA 2012 Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update
The French vehicle manufacturers Nexter and Renault (through local affiliate Mack) are also proposing relevant vehicles. Although Nexter promoted its vehicle development capabilities through the XP2 technology demonstrator platform, one of two candidates for the French Army next generation APC. While Nexter can only hope to sell its XP2 TD to the US, the more likely goal for Nexter is to introduce its automatic cannon firing 40mm Caseless Telescopic Ammunition CTA40, developed under cooperation with the British company BAE Systems.
Mack displayed at AUSA the Renault Sherpa carrying the 105mm lightweight howitzer. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update
The British and French Armies have already adopted the new cannon for their future combat vehicles and potential penetration of the US market, for example, as the primary weapon for the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), could have significant implications on the acceptance of this advanced weapon worldwide. Renault, a subsidiary of the Volvo group, promoted here a 105mm SP gun mounted on a Sherpa. Yet the company also has a broad range of armored vehicles that could fit a future US requirement.
BAE Systems is focusing on the Bradley for the AMPV, offering five new derivatives as successors for the M-113s. The company is also prepares wheeled vehicles for a parallel Marine Corps requirement for the Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC) program. The company is teaming with Iveco to promote the amphibious SuperAV 8×8 troop carrier for the BAE Systems is not the only bidder offering a foreign design for the MPC program. In fact, all the platforms considered for the program are foreign – The Italian SuperAV will compete against Lockheed Martin’s Havoc 8×8 (based on PatriaAMV from Finland) and the Swiss developed Piranha V, a heavier and more powerful version of the LAV-25 currently used by the corps, produced GDLS.
Dassault aviation carried out the first flight of the nEUROn, Europe’s unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) stealth technology demonstrator. The unmanned aircraft successfully completed its maiden flight from the Dassault Aviation flight test base in Istres, in collaboration with the flight test personnel of the French defense procurement agency (DGA).
nEURON taxi on the runway at Isters after landing. Photo: video via Dassault Aviation
Following this maiden flight nEUROn will continue to undergo testing in France until 2014, at which time it will be sent to Vidsel in Sweden for a series of operational trials. It will then go to the Perdadesfogu range (Italy) for further tests, in particular firing and stealth measurements.
At a length of 10 meters, and wingspan of 12.5 meters, nEUROn has an empty weight of only 5 tons. It is powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca “Adour” engine.
The nEUROn technology UCAV demonstration program was launched in 2005 by the customer, DGA, and involves France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece and Switzerland. It defines a future for the aeronautic excellence of Europe. With Dassault Aviation as prime contractor, the program was designed to pool the skills and know-how of Alenia Aermacchi (Italy), SAAB (Sweden), EADS-CASA (Spain), HAI (Greece), RUAG (Switzerland) and Thales (France).
nEURON takes off on its first flight from Isters, December 1, 2012. Photo: video via Dassault Aviation
Skid marks left on the flight deck of Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning could verify the recent operations of J-15 naval fighter jets during the vessels’ recent mission in November 2012. as seen on this Eros B satellite images taken November 6 and November 12, 2012. Photos: Imagesat
China’s Xinhua News Agency, commonly recognized as the nation’s official news service, announced on 25 November that a J-15 carrier-based fighter-bomber of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) made a successful landing aboard the nation’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. This landing represents the first known landing of a jet aircraft aboard China’s one and only aircraft carrier and marks a major stride forward in Beijing’s efforts to field a combat-capable aircraft carrier.
The Shenyang J-15 is a Chinese-built carrier-borne multi-role fighter-bomber based on Russia’s Sukhoi SU-33. The Xinhua News Agency claims that the J-15 is capable of carrying air-to-air, anti-ship, and air-to-ground missiles as well as an array of precision-guided munitions. According to Xinhua, the J-15’s performance is comparable to that of the Russian SU-33 and the American F-18.
In all, the Xinhua News Service reported that five J-15 fighters successfully landed aboard the Liaoning after conducting touch-and-go exercises on 4 November. Other news sources reported that a new two-seat J-15S completed its first test flight on 3 November.
According to the Xinhua News Service, this operation symbolizes the debut of the J-15 and claimed that the aircraft and ship demonstrated “good compatibility.” Xinhua also provided several undated high-resolution photographs of the landing and the Internet is now featuring several videos of the event as well.
A video broadcast by the China Central Television network clearly shows a J-15 landing on the Liaoning, dropping a tailhook, catching a deck-mounted arrestor cable, and slowly coasting to a halt.
Chinese pilots have been preparing for carrier operations for years. Particularly, pilots were trained on a land-based carrier mock-up runway built at the Chinese Carrier Aviator Center at Huludao, in the Liaoning provinde shown in this Eros B satellite image. Photo: Imagesat
After the successful landing, the aircraft is seen folding its wings and horizontal stabilizers as it taxis forward on the flight deck. Folding wings are crucial capability for aircraft operating within the restricting confines of an aircraft carrier. Additional video and photos also show a J-15 performing a successful take off from the carrier. Until now, many analysts were skeptical that China possessed the technical know-how to field an operational arrestor-cable system capable of withstanding the rigors of multiple carrier landings. Chinese pilots have been preparing for carrier operations for years. Particularly, pilots were trained on a land-based carrier mock-up runway built at the Chinese Carrier Aviator Center at Huludao, in the Liaoning provinde.
In addition to the international surprise expressed following the successful landings, many analysts were also taken aback by the appearance of a functioning arresting gear system aboard the Liaoning. Arresting gear technology is highly prized and closely guarded. Only a very few nations possess the technology to produce a functioning system and none of them have ever expressed the slightest willingness to share this technology. The question now being asked is how China was able to produce a functioning arresting-gear system in such a short time and seemingly without any previous experience in such a difficult engineering feat?
The Liaoning was initially laid down as the Admiral Kuznetsov-class multi-role aircraft carrier Riga in Mykolav, Ukraine in 1985 for the Soviet Navy and was formally launched in late 1988 and renamed the Varyag in 1990. Work on the ship was discontinued in 1992 at a time when the ship was structurally complete, but lacked electronics and other necessary equipment.
When the Soviet Union dissolved, ownership of the ship was transferred to the Ukraine. At this time she was laid up, stripped of most vital equipment, and allowed to languish with no maintenance being performed. By 1998, she was little more than a hulk lacking engines, without a rudder or required onboard operating systems, and in a deplorable state of disrepair.
The ship was bought from the Ukraine in 1998 for $20 million by a Chinese firm ostensibly for the purpose of transforming her into a floating hotel and tourist attraction. After being towed to the Dalian Shipyard in northeastern China, she underwent an extensive refit and emerged in 2006 in the form of a PLAN aircraft carrier. The Liaoning was formally inducted into the PLAN in September 2012. This event marked China’s first foray into the rarified world of aircraft carrier operations, a highly complex endeavor mastered by only a handful of nations. Only five other nations are presently able to deploy full-size aircraft carriers capable of conducting sustained fixed-wing flight operations.
In its present configuration, Liaoning is believed to be capable of operating an air wing of 30 fixed-wing aircraft and as many as 24 rotary-wing aircraft.
A cursory glance at the new J-15 leaves little doubt that the aircraft is a close copy of the Russian Sukhoi-33. Negotiations between Russia and China for the sale of an undisclosed number of SU-33s for use by the PLAN collapsed in 2009 as a result of Russian concerns that China intended to reverse-engineer the aircraft and produce a domestically-manufactured clone. Unfortunately for the Russians, China was able to obtain an SU-33 prototype from the Ukraine and now we have an operational Chinese J-15.
Chinese representatives have adamantly denied that the J-15 is an SU-33 clone. While China admits the J-15’s airframe is similar to that of the SU-33, Xinhua claims that the J-15 is the result of Chinese ingenuity and innovation.
With the PLAN’s first carrier landings and take-offs, China has taken a critical step forward in its efforts to develop a credible naval force able to project Chinese power far beyond its own shores – a “blue-water” Navy so to speak. Although this latest development does not, by any means, indicate that China is now prepared to carry out full-scale naval operations combining all elements of a “traditional” carrier strike group, it does represent a significant step in that direction. Carrier-borne operations combine some of the most complex seaborne activities known to man with intricate shipboard maneuvers that sometimes seem to move with lightning speed and China still has much to learn before she will be able to deploy a combat-ready carrier strike force.
As a side note, the China-based SINA website reported that Luo Yang, the senior engineer in charge of research and development of the J-15, died suddenly of a heart attack while aboard the Liaoning for the test flight operations. Yang was chairman and general manager of AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and devoted most of his time to the development of the J-15 according to SINA.