Friday, December 31, 2010

I'm moving!

Change is inevitable!

It's official - I've outgrown my little plot of land here at blogger, and have purchased new space which will allow me to continue to cultivate military media/news.

My new "home" is up (and pseudo-running).

Be forewarned, however - there are still glitches here and there.  Please bear with me as I continue to work through them (what can I say, it's not easy to port 500+ posts somewhere!).

The good news it that you will now be able to subscribe directly to my feeds - and follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

My new claim on the web can be found at

I hope that you enjoy the new look and feel.  =)

BAE’s Diverse MRAP Orders

The USA’s Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) program has been a long road for BAE Systems. In the wake of the US Army’s belated realization that mine protection was critical for vehicles in theater, BAE’s designs, long-standing experience in the field, and production capacity had made them an early favorite. Early results were a deeply humbling experience for the firm, but a combination of acquisitions, persistence, and product development combined to recover 2nd place status by the time MRAP orders ceased.

BAE MRAP: The Vehicles

The RG-33L’s unique features make it a very strong contender for Explosive Ordnance Disposal roles, route-proving, and other classic MRAP Category II tasks that need a larger vehicle. It is a 6×6 vehicle designed to maximize interior space and visibility, while remaining well-protected and transportable by C-130 Hercules. At 38,700 pounds empty, it’s a close fit, and a fully-loaded vehicle can weigh up to 58,000 pounds. Compare this with an up-armored Hummer’s 9,000 pound empty weight and 12,000 pound total weight when fully loaded.

The optional robotic arm is probably the RG-33L’s most recognizable feature, allowing it to probe, remove, and/or place destruction charges near possible land mines from a safe distance. This feature helped the vehicle win the US Army’s 2,500 vehicle MMPV competition to equip its engineer and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) units. It can be fielded without the arm, and some variants like the RG-33L MEDEVAC Ambulance variant are never equipped with it.

The RG-33L’s standard armor is designed to offer protection up to medium machine gun fire, while its monocoque v-hull is designed to deflect blasts away from the vehicle offer protection against IED land mines. Its windows use TRAPP transparent armor, and the vehicle is equipped to handle the weight of additional tailored armor packages if desired. It is also equipped with run-flat tires, multi-positional mine protected seating, and other survivability equipment such as extinguishers.

An hydraulic ramp, a transparent armor gunner’s shield, dedicated space for equipment stowage, and enough power generation to operate mission electronics and air conditioning round out the RG-33L’s key features. That last item may seem like a luxury, but when it’s 110 degrees outside the vehicle and you’re wearing body armor or a full explosives protection suit, air conditioning is necessary in order to arrive in a fit state to perform one’s duties… like defusing touchy explosives. The vehicle can carry up to 14 people, including the driver & front seat.

The shorter 4×4 RG-33 has 90% commonality with its larger cousin, and is the same width and height, but loses the robotic arm. It weighs 29,700 pounds empty, with a maximum weight fully loaded of up to 38,000 pounds. They are BAE’s high-end Category I patrol vehicle offering, designed to carry up to 8 people. They are also used in reconnaissance roles, and have been equipped with hydraulic masts that carry electro-optical long-range surveillance/ infrared/ laser-targeting turrets. A special variant of the RG-33 serves with US Special Operations Command as their MRAP vehicle of choice.


BAE’s 40-ton MRRMV recovery vehicle is also based on the RG-33. As militaries internalize the need for mine-protection on combat vehicles, a couple of corollaries become obvious. One is that heavier blast-resistant vehicles need heavy wheeled recovery vehicles that can tow them out of mud, canals, et. al. – or haul a vehicle that has had an axle destroyed by land mines back to base. The other corollary is that recovery vehicles intended to work in in areas where land mines are a common weapon of war must also be blast-resistant.

The privately-developed MRRMV carries a 2-man crew, plus equipment and spare parts to conduct on-site vehicle repairs, including field maintenance tasks that require lifting, welding, cutting and heating. It also maintains space to carry 2 recovered crew, and other combat spares. The MRRMV is capable of up-righting, winching and towing Hummers and M1117 ASVs, plus all MRAP, MMPV and Stryker class vehicles. Indeed, BAE claims that it has the capacity to recover all types of U.S. tracked and wheeled combat vehicles, with the exception of M1 Abrams battle tanks and the M88 Hercules tracked recovery vehicle.

MRAP Caiman Driving

BAE’s new subsidiary Armor Holdings was offering the Caiman MRAP vehicle before the acquisition, and is now known as BAE Tactical Vehicle Systems (BAE-TVS). Caiman is a v-hulled capsule design, mounted on the US Army’s standard FMTV medium trucks. This is not entirely surprising; one of the salient features of the trend toward mine-resistant vehicles is the use of truck chassis instead of standard automotive bases, in order to accommodate the extra armor and body weight associated with these kinds of vehicle designs. It also allows BAE to offer mine-protected cargo carrier versions of its vehicle in future.

Compared to the RG-33 family, the Caiman is slightly narrower (94 vs. 96 inches) and not quite as tall (111 vs. 136 inches). As a “v-capsule” design, Caiman acquires some of the classic drawbacks of easier “mobility kills” and a potentially higher center of gravity, in exchange for easier production due to commonality with the popular and successful FMTV truck that makes up the backbone of the US Army’s medium truck fleet.

While there are technically 2 types of Caiman on offer for the MRAP program, they are actually the same vehicle with different numbers of seats installed inside. A smaller Caiman version did not make it through testing, and the decision was made to use the larger CAT-II vehicle design and install fewer seats to create the CAT-I offering. Caiman vehicles can carry up to 10 soldiers, including the driver and front seat.

More Caiman variants may be on the way. BAE spokespeople have confirmed to DID that the firm’s MRAP-II vehicle contender, which was one of only 2 vehicles to pass through initial testing against a wider range of threats, is based on the Caiman platform. Moving in the other direction, the firm’s “Caiman Light” is designed to be smaller and provide more mobility in Afghanistan. A further step was taken with a Caiman M-ATV design that lightens the vehicle further and lengthens its nose to provide better balance for all-terrain mobility, but reduces the number of troops that can be carried.

BAE MRAP: The Current Tally

Despite their status as early favorites, by June 20/07 contracts had been issued for 3,266 Category I patrol & Category II squad-sized MRAP vehicles, fully 42% of a the program’s planned 7,774 orders. Force Protection had racked up orders for 1,780 Cougar vehicles, and Navistar/Plasan Sasa had come out of the tests at Aberdeen with orders for 1,216 of its MaxxPro joint design. BAE sat in 4th place with orders for just 90 vehicles – 2.8% of the total. It had to be a humbling experience for the firm that went into 2004 as the world leader in the field.

BAE has worked hard to catch up, even as the number of MRAPs in the program more than doubled to over 15,000. The final tally gave them a wide 2nd place lead over 3rd place firm Force Protection. It also made them one of just 2 firms with a foothold under new MRAP-II qualifications, which includes protection against EFP (explosively-formed projectile) land mines that fire the equivalent of a cannon shell at the vehicle, in addition to the standard under-body blasts.

As of December 2007, more than 2,000 BAE Systems employees in the United States and 400 in South Africa (BAE OMC, producing General Dynamics’ entry) were producing vehicles with the support of suppliers in more than 30 states across the United States. Key production locations include York, PA; Fairfield, OH; Aiken, SC, and Sealy, TX, with production assistance from partners Spartan Motors Chassis and Demmer Corporation.

Of the envisaged 15,771 vehicles in the MRAP-I program as of March 31/08, all have now been ordered – and follow-ons have grown the total further, even as related programs like the more mobile M-ATV and the Army’s MMPV engineer vehicle have grown the overall fleet of blast-resistant platforms. Thus far, BAE has directly received basic MRAP contract orders for 5,218 vehicles:

    * 31 RG-33 MRAP CAT-I
    * 436 RG-33 MRAP CAT-I SOCOM variant
    * 1,710 RG-33L (MRAP CAT-II w. optional robotic arm)
    * 181 RG-33 HAGA Ambulance variant
    * 2,178 BAE-TVS Caimans, CAT-I seating internally
    * 684 BAE-TVS Caimans, CAT-II seating internally
    * Caiman Ambulance variant in development

Based on these orders, BAE remains 2nd place in the initial MRAP CAT-I/II race, with 29.6% of all orders to date. This is a major improvement from its position earlier in the competition, and its own high-end RG-33 vehicles now own a respectable 13.3% share. General Dynamics Land Systems has also been contracted to supply RG-31 MRAP program vehicles to the US military, in partnership with the Canadian government and BAE OMC of South Africa. RG-31 orders actually began before the MRAP program, and are not included in the above figures. If RG-31 MRAP program orders are also folded into BAE’s share, it rises to 38.9%.

The leader is still Navistar with 42.7%, a lead that widened recently when its lighter “MaxxPro Dash” was selected by the US Army in recent orders for the Afghan theater. One-time MRAP leader Force Protection has slipped to a distant 3rd place at 17.5% and is unlikely to receive further MRAP orders.

To learn more about the history of this program, click here.

Boeing's A160T to support Marines in Afghanistan

The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has awarded Boeing a contract worth close to $30 million for the delivery of unmanned cargo aerial vehicle services supporting U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan. Under the contract Boeing will provide two A160T Hummingbird unmanned vehicles, three ground control stations, spares, training and support. The A160T aircraft designated for the contract are being completed at the new production line launched by the company in Mesa, Ariz., March 2010.

These unmanned vehicles will be owned by the government-owned, but will be supported by the manufacturer under the new contract. The contract calls for a period of predeployment operations at a military facility in the continental United States, followed by options for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

EaglePicher to supply advanced lithium ion aircraft battery to Navy

The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., are awarding a $3.1 million contract to EaglePicher Technologies LLC in Joplin, Mo., to develop an advanced lithium ion battery for aircraft as part of a project to increase the mission performance, operational capabilities, reduce the total ownership cost, and improve system readiness of naval air vehicles.

Awarding the contract for this aircraft battery last week were officials of the NAVAIR Propulsion and Power Engineering Department, Science ,and Technology Office.

The award is in response to a broad agency announcement (BAA N68335-09-R-0204) to provide NAVAIR with several kinds of new air vehicle technologies related to prognostics, diagnostics, and health monitoring systems for propulsion, power and drive systems, as well as advanced aircraft power systems, fuel technology, and aircraft energy conservation and environmental compliance.

Dyneema's HB80 Composite Material Selected for Helmets

DSM Dyneema has been awarded a contract for the development of an improved combat helmet based on advanced Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) material solution. DSM Dyneema has been focusing on research and development of new UHMPWE series of materials to substantially lighten the load for military and law enforcement. As part of the contract the company will develop new unidirectional (UD) materials suitable for the improved combat helmet next generation improved combat helmet application, offering superior ballistic performance at lower weight.

The company launched the Dyneema HB80 in June 2009. Initially known as Prototype Dyneema X31, this UD composite material  has undergone extensive ballistic and secondary property testing, demonstrating the potential to significantly lighten the load carried by soldiers, providing greater comfort and mobility for soldiers wear protective gear. HB80 offers over the highest ballistic performance on the market today. With 35 percent greater protection against fragmentation threats and its advanced ballistic properties, SWAT helmets made of HB80  could be produced with half the weight of today’s models. This material has now been selected for both body and vehicle armor applications where ultra-light weight and enhanced performance are required.

The HB80 has been extensively tested and evaluated in different helmet constructions and is currently in the final development testing phase of ECH program. The ECH will use manufacturing techniques  different from those associated with resin-impregnated para-aramids while the UHMWPE uses advanced thermoplastic processing.

According to DSM Dyneema the company is already working with all major helmet manufacturers involved in the Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) program. Unlike previous models made of Kevlar, Improved versions of the ECH will employ the high tech UHMWPE developed specifically to address the requirements of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The program is a joint PEO Soldier/Marine Corps Systems Command developmental effort that will provide increased protection against ballistic and fragmentation threats. Previous reports about the ECH mentioned that the new lightweight helmet will match or exceed the ballistic fragmentation resistance of current helmets offering a significant weight reduction of approximately 20%, which means above 0.5 pounds as compared to the older designs.

British-Israeli JV to Produce Nanotubes for Defense Applications

A new company established today in Israel will produce carbon nanotube fibre for the enhancement of body armor and composite armour systems for vehicles. The new material is stronger than Kevlar and other ballistic fabrics, but still flexible and lightweight. TorTech Nano Fibers Ltd. The company is a joint venture company owned by Israel’s world leading armor and survivability company Plasan and University of Cambridge spin-out company Q-Flo. According to the agreement, Plasan will have exclusive sales and marketing rights to defence-orientated materials, whilst Q-Flo will retain rights for other potential applications.

“We believe Q-Flo’s carbon nanotubes have the potential to revolutionise the defence industry through a new range of lightweight, flexible and incredibly strong armored material” Said CEO of Plasan Group, Dan Ziv. “Through Tortech, we intend to produce a carbon nanotube-based yarn, which can be woven into the strongest-ever manmade material. Plasan’s expertise will then enable the design and production of a revolutionary new range of body and vehicle armor” said According to Q-Flo’s CEO, Dr. Dai Hayward.

This is the first time the technology will be scaled up for industrial production. The current process for making the fibre is only capable of turning out one gram per day.

Prof Alan Windle and Dr Martin Pick, who spun out Q-Flo in 2004, developed a process that winds fibre from an ‘elastic smoke’ consisting of floating carbon nanotubes. The smoke is created by growing carbon nanotubes on tiny floating iron catalysts inside a reactor. The floating nanotubes entangle, and create an ‘elastic smoke’. This smoke can then be wound up into a continuous fibre using Q-Flo’s specially designed machine. The fibre is so thin that it is barely visible to the naked eye.

It is believed the fibre could be used to make ropes, cables, fabric and composite materials, as well as body armor. While the material’s axial strength and stiffness is in the range of conventional carbon fibre, its toughness exceeds Kevlar by three times. At the same time it is also lighter in weight. Its yarn-like nature also means that it can be successfully woven into the matrix resin of composites.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

UAV is latest Air Force plane tested to run on alternative fuel

By Anna Mulrine

A drone that runs on alternative fuels?

That's the latest from the Air Force, which has been running tests to see how its aircraft perform burning something other than straight jet fuel. The initiative is aimed not only at shrinking its carbon footprint and spurring alternative fuels development, but also at strengthening national security.

Monday's alternative fuel test of the Global Hawk UAV was considered one of the most challenging yet for the Air Force.

The drone that flies at high altitudes and low temperatures was one of the last that the Air Force needed to test in its current spate of trial runs before its fleet is certified to run on a 50-50 blend of jet fuel and alternative fuels.

The ultimate gauge of success is that the aircraft flies without incident, and moreover, that “the pilots can’t tell any difference” in the performance of their respective planes, says Gary Strausburg, the Air Force’s chief of environmental public affairs.

The Air Force burns about the equivalent of a single midsize commercial airline each year, or about 2.5 billion gallons. For that reason, it can help encourage innovation in the development of alternative fuels.

But partnerships with industry are vital, too, because for many biofuels “the tricky part is the cost,” says Timothy Bridges, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environment, safety and occupational health. The science, too, is a challenge, since the Air Force ultimately wants to be able to pump biofuels – including plant extracts and animal fats – into aircraft without changing out any parts.

There is also the issue of space. Growing crops that ultimately could become biofuel for the Air Force requires considerable land. It also takes time. Algae has proved particularly promising because it grows quickly – and can sometimes be harvested in just 24 hours, says Michael McGhee, who serves in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy.

Biofuels could ultimately give the military a more flexible and reliable source of energy, allowing it to abandon crops that may have been hit by a drought and buy up cheaper fuel made from crops that had a banner year and might be selling at a lower price.

This has a flip side, however: As the price of oil decreases, developing alternative fuels – and building the plants it takes to process them – can become less economically appealing, says Mr. McGhee, which can hold up production.

Greenhouse gas emission legislation is another variable. Industry, McGhee points out, is carefully watching the outcome of legislation making its way through Congress to see if new environmental standards become law, “before they invest too deeply in production.”

In the meantime, the hope is that the Air Force’s interest in alternative fuels will help drive industry, says Bridges – particularly since the Air Force has set a goal of certifying its fleet to use a blend of alternative and fossil fuels by 2011. Looking ahead, it aims to be able run a 50-50 blend incorporating biofuels in all of its planes that operate in the continental United States by 2016.

The Air Force has also taken other more immediate steps to increase its energy efficiency both in the US and abroad. It has found shorter flight routes, and has scoured the fleet to get rid of extra weight – including, for example, losing thick binders filled with information that can easily be put on a computer instead – to make the fuel go further.

The point “is not to be saddled with a dependence on foreign oil,” Bridges adds. “That’s a national security issue.”