Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Vulcan B4

The AVRO Vulcan was the RAF's last heavy bomber. The last operational version was the B2, the last version proposed was the Vulcan B3 designed as a missile carrier. Given that the RAF now needs a long range bomber to act as a bomb truck and a stand off nuclear bomber as a cheaper alternative to Trident is it time for a new Vulcan?

To start from an existing design would seem to be sensible. A Vulcan update might seem to be a reasonable prospect, the aerodynamics of the form are already known and the Vulcan had a very low radar cross section from head on which could be improved. In producing this specification we are not after a state of the art aircraft, but to specify an aircraft which is relative cheap and overall a conservative design which can be designed and built relatively quickly.

First let us consider the choice of engine. The last engine used in a Vulcan was the Olympus 301, in its day a very efficient engine, however the BR715, a larger version of the engine used in the Nimrod MR4A, will produce slightly more power for about 25% less fuel consumption and it is possible that the engines for the F-35 will be even more efficient and produce even more power. Either of these would provide off the shelf power with greater efficiency.

The F-35 uses Power by Wire to distribute power to control surfaces removing the need for a heavy and complicated hydraulic systems, while so far this has not been implement as the only control system for an aircraft it is sufficiently well developed to mean that it should be considered to be the primary candidate for use on this system.

For the Flight avionics again we can steal from the Nimrod again. The system for the Nimrod is based on the Airbus A340 aircraft. It is a full glass system, it may not be state of the art any more but it works and has been adapted for military use. A different system may be picked to take advantage of improvements in electronics and software but of all the problems with the MRA4 non have been reported with the Avionics suite. The original Vulcan system was one of the first analogue fly by wire systems.

For radar the Euroradar CAPTOR system for the Typhoon or the AN/APG-81 from the F-35 should be available, these are both capable state of the art radars design for operation in a single seater aircraft. The CAPTOR has been superseded by the CAESAR electronically scanned system.

The American B2 Spirit is the bench mark for long range bombers it range is given as 6,000 nm, the Vulcan B2 range is given as 3,995 nm various plans where made for the phase 6 Vulcans which had a larger wing span and greater full capacity extended range. The use of more efficient engines would increased this range further. Hopefully by at least 25% this at some 100mph faster the the B2 Spirit. This is assuming that the structure of the aircraft is the same as it was in the late 1960s, however modern design techniques would reduce the weight even if no advanced techniques were used. The Spirit has a crew of 2, 3 less than the Vulcan and with the updated avionics then a new Vulcan could be expected to have the same size crew. This would free up centre line space for a large fuel tank.

The phase 6 was designed to be able to carry up to 38 1000lb bombs with the extra attached to hard points on the wing.

The most important factor for this project to go ahead is cost as a result the aircraft should be acquired in a bare bones format capable only of use as a bomb truck in a non threatening environment. However the various spaces through out the airframe that where used for defensive counter measures should be provided with power and data pus connections. to allow the installation of any equipment needed to deal with a greater threat environment.

In addition the basic airframe can be used as the basis of a dedicated in-flight refuelling aircraft with the bomb bay replaced with tankage and the hard points used to carry the refuelling drogues and to provide the basis for a photo reconnaissance aircraft to replace the Canberra.

Cost should be in the range of £250 million per aircraft, this is considerably less than the MRA4 as the weapons and combat avionics fit will be far cheaper and construction techniques.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Defence of the Realm 3

The RAFs currently has in service the following combat aircraft Nimrod, Harrier, Tornado and Typhoon, it plans to move to replace the Tornado and Harrier with the F35B, Lightening II, which it will share with the Fleet Air Arm to equip the Queen Elizabeth class of carriers of which two have been placed on order.
The B version of the Lightening is designed for STOVL operation, there are rumours that the order may be changed to the C version which is designed for CATOBAR operations and has greater range and is cheaper than the B version. This would require modification of the carriers but this was allowed for in the design. Thought that it would save the MoD some $3.4 billion, which is approximately the cost of one of the carriers.
The original design philosophy behind the Harrier was that any Warsaw pact attack would likely destroy the RAF's runways but a STOVL aircraft could operate from clearings or the remains of runways. It also allowed for VTOL operations from forward positions. The use on the invincible class of carrier was purely an after though and while useful for smaller ships seems pointless with the larger ships that are actually planned.
The Warsaw pact is no longer seen as the major enemy and NATO has not found a technologically comparable foe to replace them, definitely not one capable of destroying airfields deep within it territory.
It is possible that NATO my face a  to major threat in the medium term from the middle east, if it can create a coherent force but given the trials and tribulation in Europe that prospect is at least 30 years away. At worst in the near term, the middle east provides an on going drain to western forces, using equipment obtained from outside the region. One that will have to be addressed by piece meal operations on land, sea and air and by the control of weapons provided to the area to limit the distance at which action can be taken.
If NATO has a major military threat anywhere in the world then that threat is China but while China has a growing capability it still lack the global reach to strike at the heart of Europe, any war with China will be fought mostly in the east and against submarines in the North Atlantic that pass under the north pole, neither of these cases is best addressed by the planned large STOVL carriers. It requires aircraft that have range and payload operating from either a conventional carrier or from land bases for operations in the east and with small escort carriers, hunter killer submarines and Maritime patrol aircraft to secure the Atlantic and other sea lanes.
In order to fill this requirement the RAF and Navy need F-35C and conventional carriers, plus a long range bomber. In the short term extra Nimrod aircraft could fill the gap and in the longer term a specialist bomber is needed not just for the RAF but for all European NATO forces, currently only the US possesses aircraft with this capability namely the B-52, B1 and B2 aircraft. In the past only the UK also possessed such an aircraft in the form of the V bombers.
The US is unlikely to sell B2 to anyone and it is unlikely to restart production of the B1, proposed development of the B1R concentrate on the modification of existing aircraft. Given the protracted development of the A400M and Nimrod MR4A, it isn't going to be cheap. However it is the capability which is missing from an independent European defence force.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Defence of the Realm 2

The defence of the UK Mainland using seaborne assets relies primarily on submarines, and currently on vastly expensive Nuclear submarines. The primarily advantage of nuclear submarines is their ability to stay submerged for as long as the food holds out, and with the amount of power produced by the Nuclear power reactor it should be possible to grow some food on board. However that nuclear power comes at the cost, a nuclear submarine makes far more noise than a diesel electric submarine.
The Royal Navies last conventional submarine was the Upholder class , which served for only 4 years before being mothballed and then sold to Canada. Currently France is producing the slightly smaller Scorpène class of submarine and Germany the Type 212, which has additional fuel cell power and will form the basis for the Israeli Dolphin class.
In defending the UK the conventional boats have the advantage of silence and greater numbers per pound. They are more manoeuvrable and have a greater chance of being sold overseas both the German and French submarines have been sold to other allied navies, which will help to reduce the cost for the British tax payer.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Defence of the Realm 1

Broadly speaking the UK's armed forces have 2 roles. The most fundamental role is that of defending the homeland the other is the defence of vital interest where ever that vital interest is.
There is no threat to the UK homeland that the military is required to address beyond terrorism. The last perceived threat was the Warsaw pact, with the collapse of that threat then Russia was held up as a threat, however unlikely.
Since the 2008 South Ossetia war Russia has taken a root and branch look at it's armed forces and has changed the centuries old Russian practice. In the past the Russian philosophy was to maintain an officer corps and equipment inventory far larger than was required for the current number of enlisted men. This allowed the fielding of a massive army on very short notice. During the 2008 war the Georgians where equipped to NATO standards and proved far harder for the Russians to deal with than they had supposed. As a result the Russians undertook a complete reassessment of their military strategy and concluded that a smaller professional army was the way to go.
This allows the Russians traditional enemies to remove Russia from the list of potential adversaries as they can no longer go from a small army to a massive army in 12 months. This removes the last overland threat to the UK, this should cause a fundamental reassessment of the British Forces Germany, Germany is in a position to protect itself and does not need the 1.5 billion Euro subsidy from the UK. With more than 25,000 troops in Germany that is 2.5 times more than are in Afghanistan and as far as I can tell Germany has been peaceful for some time. They of course have equipment as well which must consist of around 200 Challenger 2 and more Warrior IFV.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Light Carrier caught between two stools

The Invincible carriers where design for submarine warfare in the North Atlantic against the USSR. They where hardly capable of  defending themselves against a large air wing or force, which limited how close they could be brought to land against a country with a developed air force but the USA has never brought their big carriers into that level of danger, at least with the Invincible class you risk loosing less if one is destroyed but with only 3 carriers you can only be in three places at once and only then on the rare occasions that one of the carriers is not in refit.
During WWII, when modern carrier warfare first developed and the only time it has actually been used. Carriers of this size only ever acted in concert with larger carriers providing air cover and often with smaller carriers even more in harms way.
The Invincible calls was similarly designed to operate under the protection of the American super carriers or land based aircraft. independent use of the carriers, or through deck cruisers to given them their full title, was not envisaged by planners as they lack of AEW aircraft shows. The AEW weakness has been patched up but not totally solved, the use of V22 Osprey aircraft with not only Radar but also some command and control and some Electronic Warfare capability to protect the carrier would allow ships of the size of the Invincible class to operate independently.
Fundamentally it is the composition of the air wing that makes a carrier capable of independent operation, size is not important.