US Marine Corps puts RAF personnel through their paces

Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel are the first overseas students to complete the Weapons Tactics Instructor Course; a grueling seven-week training initiative for the US Marine Corps.

Chinook pilots and aircrew from RAF Odiham temporarily relocated to Marine Air Corps Station Yuma in southern Arizona to complete the course. While there, they trained alongside more than 200 US Marine Corps students in some of the most realistic conditions possible.

“This is really world class training,” said Group Captain Lee Turner, Station Commander RAF Odiham and Commander of the RAF Chinook Force. “We’ve come here in effect to improve the capability of the Chinook Force and to train our people. It’s challenging for our crews and for our personnel here, not only the climatic conditions but also the complex nature of the training and the intensity of this which is a very focused seven-week course.

“It’s a proud moment to be here as the first overseas fully participating members of the course and hopefully we’ve built strong relationships with the US Marine Corps and built on relationships we’ve had in the past.”

On occasion, temperatures would reach 50 degrees centigrade to replicate those experienced in the Middle East and Africa where RAF Chinooks still operate today.

“For the students this is a testing course,” added Squadron Leader Chris Middleton, the Detachment Commander responsible for the four RAF students and four instructors. “It’s training we haven’t received on the helicopter course for a generation. The complexity and scale is an issue for the students but over three to four weeks of ground school and then a crawl, walk, run process they get to be experts by the end. The students on return to the UK will take the good lessons they’ve learnt here back to their squadrons and build them into squadron training.

“In recent wars we’ve found ourselves with the US Marine Corps fighting side by side. If we have the lessons that we’ve gained working together in our pockets already then we’re going to be a more effective fighting force.”

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F-35B pilot performs world first shipborne rolling vertical landing

The first ever Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) has been carried out by an F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter jet conducting trials onboard the UK’s new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The UK is the only nation currently planning to use the manoeuvre, which will allow jets to land onboard with heavier loads, meaning they won’t need to jettison expensive fuel and weapons before landing.

Previously the jets have conducted vertical landings, coming to a hover to the side of the ship, translating sideways over the deck, before gently lowering to land on. It is regarded as a safer method to reduce speed before the jet lands on in this way, rather than landing on at speed, coming to a stop before it runs out of deck.

An SRVL uses a different approach, with the jet using a more conventional landing pattern, approaching the ship from the aft end, at speed, using the thrust from the nozzle and lift created by air over the wings to touch down and come to a stop as soon as possible.

The landing was conducted by BAE Systems UK test pilot, Peter Wilson, who commented: “I’m excited and thrilled to have achieved this, the whole team is. It’s an inherently risky manoeuvre. We have always understood that it is safer to stop before you land than it is to land before you stop and the prime reason for that is that if something goes wrong with the airplane it is far better for it to be stationary than a rolling wreckage.

“I’ve worked on this for the past 17 years; it’s fantastic to know that it’s matched the modelling and simulation we have done over the years. I’ve flown over 2000 SRVLs in the simulator, and am honored to have been able to do the first one onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth here today.”

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Defence Secretary launches report warning of future threats to UK

The Ministry of Defence has published a report that sets out the need to take action against the latest strategic threats to UK defence and security.

The ‘Future Starts Today’ report indicates that the world has reached a critical point in the need to tackle the evolution of threats faced in the current climate.

The last Strategic Defence and Security Review, published three years ago, identified four main areas of threat, including the evolution of extremist terrorism, the resurgence of state-based threats, the rapid advance of technology on all fronts and the erosion of the rules-based international order.

The sixth edition of the Global Strategic Trends report recognises the danger of those threats, but also sets out how they are continuing to speed up and intersect to create new and unparalleled risks.

It outlines how regional powers could develop nuclear capabilities with global reach, internationally accepted rules on chemical weapons are ignored, and non-state actors could acquire sophisticated missile technology. It also describes how the interaction between climate change, demand for resources and over-population drives competition, that could lead to conflict.

The MOD’s thinktank, the Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre, worked on the report for two years. They drew on a range of analysis across academia, business, government departments and nations from across the globe. The findings support those who formulate Defence policy, strategy and capability development, and include a range of innovations. This has been evident in the development of the MOD’s Arctic Strategy, Space Strategy and approach to future autonomous systems.

The MOD’s research teams used a suite of research methods to provide insight into alternate, plausible futures, watchpoints and discontinuities. Through this analysis UK Defence has identified key areas that have the potential to profoundly change humanity over the coming years.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This report makes clear that we are living in a world becoming rapidly more dangerous, with intensifying challenges from state aggressors who flout the rules, terrorists who want to harm our way of life and the technological race with our adversaries. Identifying these threats means we can continue to build an Armed Forces that can stay ahead of them.”

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Taking up the challenge: DASA innovating people in defence

The search for innovation dominates the defence industry as the Ministry of Defence seeks to leverage potential game-changing advantages on the battlefield. 

For most people this would bring to mind cutting-edge technology being developed and tested in secrecy at a secure military facility.  Whilst the aesthetics of the latest unmanned aerial vehicles look like something you might expect to see in the latest sci-fi movie, innovation is not the exclusive province of hardware. 

One of the priorities for innovation in defence is how to recruit, train, retain and motivate the right number of people and make the most efficient and effective use of the workforce. 

People are central to defence capabilities and are core to delivering defence outputs. The MOD employs 195,520 regular military and civilian staff and 32,240 Reserves.  

Spending on defence staff also accounted for around 30% (£10.3 billion) of the £36 billion Defence spending in 2016-17, with the department tasked with continually reviewing expenditure and activities to ensure that the best result is achieved with the resources available. This includes exploring all opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our people and the supporting processes, behaviours and cultures. 

Emerging technologies such as industrial robots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are advancing at a rapid pace and the Ministry of Defence is keen to see how these technologies can be exploited.  

It is anticipated that the seemingly relentless pace and scale of technological change will have a significant impact on the way the workforce – the Armed Forces, Civil Service and contractors – connects with the MOD, while the communities within the workforce are set to fundamentally change. 

At the same time, the MOD is keen to stress that while the advancement of technology will bring numerous advantages, it will never replace the human capability and capacity to create, innovate, and make decisions.  

In particular, value-based decisions that require moral and ethical judgment are likely to remain a human endeavour for the foreseeable future in Defence. 

Instead, there is a need to better understand the implications of emerging technologies for the residual skills required to plan and embed a culture of lifelong learning. 

In addition to this, the MOD also shares many of the same challenges that face other large and complex organisations when it comes to leading, managing and using people. 

As part of efforts to tackle these, the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) launched The Defence People Innovation Challenge in an effort to seek innovative ideas from industry and academia and present them to users across both the defence and security services.  

The Challenge represents a different proposition for DASA as it shifts its attention from innovative technology to people.  

Mark Darvill, an Innovation Partner at DASA, explains: “Most of the challenges that we get involved in are very focused in technology areas. This one is aimed at the people space. So whilst it will still attract some HR technology, it’s all about looking at the challenges defence faces in the people space.”  

The Challenge will see up to £6 million of funding committed from the Defence Innovation Fund – the £800m fund set up after the Defence Innovation Initiative – and is sponsored by the Chief of Defence People (CDP).  

Mark says the CDP is the driving force behind the challenge and set the strategy for developing a case for motivated military civilian workforce: “Their aim really is to look strategically at how we recruit, retain and motivate our workforce.  

CDP has a great desire to bring in some fresh thinking. When you look outside in the enterprise community, the way that companies recruit, interact and motivate their staff has obviously changed quite a lot and changed at quite some pace. New technology-based solutions allow employees to connect with the company and the teams they work in and CDP wants to bring some of that thinking into defence.  

“Defence is obviously a very different environment to work in but, having looked at it in some depth now, we think some of that thinking can be brought in to great advantage.” 

The four main challenge areas are recruitment, motivation, retention and skills.  

The push for innovation within the defence industry means that the Challenge will look for solutions to help recruit the right mix of capable and motivated people.  

Mark explains: “As time moves on, some of the other areas that we get involved with – such as artificial intelligence or autonomous vehicles – actually require different talents, different types of people to be recruited within the defence forces alongside the normal people they need to reach out to.  

“So it’s all about how do you actually reach out to people who may not have left school yet? How do you reach out to them given that they have a very different view and outlook on life and a different social environment as well?”  

The second aspect to the Challenge is motivation. It will look to increase engagement by preparing people to actively lead and contribute to defence’s goals.  

The third area is retention with solutions sought to help retain skills and experience of people longer within the Armed Forces.  

The fourth challenge area sees DASA looking for solutions that will help secure access to knowledge, skills, experience and other attributes that are needed to meet the increasing demands of the defence workforce.  

“It’s all about looking at things like reducing costs of developing new skills; how do we develop them – do we send to classrooms or can we do it in an online environment – and really looking at how we can reduce the time and resources required to develop high-level skill areas.   

“The fact the Challenge represents the biggest investment in innovation in people in defence since the 1960s is a reflection of the importance placed on modernising people management in the defence industry,” says Mark.  

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Defence Minister calls on firms to help military respond to new threats

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew has urged hundreds of firms to help the military respond to emerging threats as quickly as possible, calling them the ‘unsung heroes’ behind the Armed Forces.

Opening the Ministry of Defence’s LOGNET conference on military logistics, he said the UK would need the industry to stay ahead of the game for the country to retain its ability to respond quickly to threats from the likes of extreme terrorists and rogue states.

LOGNET is the MOD’s support engagement and future development event for the defence support network. It is designed to improve the understanding of UK defence’s support requirements, pursue knowledge of developments in academic and commercial capability, whilst reinforcing partnerships through continued engagement. Its outcome is to assist defence in arguing the case for the UK to maintain a credible, highly capable and value for money support capability.

The event, the fifth of its kind, brought together 250 leading industry and military figures from the defence logistics community. New technologies from 14 companies and departments were showcased including autonomous resupply robots and pioneering logistics software.

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said: “Our world-class Armed Forces are able to rapidly respond to unpredictable threats like terrorists and rogue states, and even humanitarian disasters like the recent tsunami in Indonesia.

“We’ve got to move quickly when crisis strikes, and the logisticians are the unsung heroes behind those on the frontline, ensuring everything runs smoothly so they are there and ready to respond. This conference brings together some of the brightest minds in the sector as we look to spur them on to ensure we remain a world-leading military.”

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Dstl seeking innovation in machine learning for combat modelling

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is working with Digital Catapult to look at solutions in combat modelling in new open call.

Digital Catapult is organising and facilitating a Pit Stop (similar to a “hackathon”) event with the aim of identifying innovative ideas for the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in future Dstl decision-support combat models.

This is designed as an innovation activity where a wide range of Suitably Qualified and Experienced Persons (SQEPs) come together to tackle a specific problem area. Digital Catapult is responsible for the Open Call, reviewing applications, vetting and inviting all potential attendees. At the end of the Pit Stop event, participants will be invited to submit proposals to Dstl for follow-on studies, investigations and/or developments arising from the Pit Stop event discussions and activities. Contracts are available up to a total of £400,000.

Most of MOD’s current combat modelling techniques however either represent command decisions through simple rules-based systems or rely heavily on human users to provide the command context, whilst simulation handles the complex conclusions of the outcome.

These systems often require great physical effort to run and only consider a limited set of scenarios, resulting in significant uncertainty regarding outcomes.

As part of ongoing work looking at developing a new suite of capabilities that both reduce the manpower needed to make credible command decisions and enable the simulations to consider a wider range of situations, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is seeking to understand how AI can be applied to support this mission.

Mark Gould, Principal Analyst at Dstl, said: “By working with Digital Catapult, Dstl will expand its supplier base to include up and coming small and medium enterprises who are developing exciting innovations in AI and modelling but who don’t currently work with defence.

“These new suppliers offer us opportunities not only to expand our supplier base but also to explore how innovations being used outside of defence can be used to improve the support we offer to MOD into the future.”

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Devonport to home all Royal Navy’s new Type 26 frigates

The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has revealed that all of the Royal Navy’s next-generation Type 26 frigates will be homed in Devonport.

The eight Type 26 warships will start being delivered to the Royal Navy from the mid-2020s, heralding yet another new era in the role of a base, which has played a central role in the defence of the UK for hundreds of years – from the Napoleonic wars to the Falklands Conflict.

The 6,900-tonne frigates will be world-class anti-submarine warships and will provide cutting-edge protection for the likes of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, with the ability to conduct a whole range of other operations anywhere in the world.

The eight Type 26s will replace the current anti-submarine warfare Type 23 frigates. They will make up the next-generation of the Navy’s fleet, along with a first batch of five Type 31e frigates. The decision on where the Type 31e frigates will be based is still to be made.

The first Type 26 ships have already been ordered for £3.7 billion from BAE Systems’ yards on the Clyde. The first four have already been named as HMS Glasgow, HMS Cardiff, HMS Belfast and HMS Birmingham.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The largest Naval Base in western Europe, Devonport is the lifeblood of Plymouth and is as synonymous with this city as it is with our famous Royal Navy.

“Ships have set sail from Devonport’s dock to defend our great nation for hundreds of years, and I can reveal that the truly world-class Type 26 frigates will follow in their wake.

“We are living in increasingly dangerous times, with threats intensifying both on and beneath the water. Plymouth should be in no doubt that it will be right at the heart of Britain’s fight for a safer world by homing these formidable warships.”

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NATO’s Exercise Trident Juncture begins

Hundreds of UK troops have arrived in the Netherlands as part of an epic 2,500km road move to Norway for Exercise Trident Juncture, NATO’s flagship exercise in 2018.

In Norway, 2,700 UK personnel will contribute to the large-scale and complex exercise, which will test NATO’s most important founding principle of collective defence in an article 5 scenario – when an attack on one is an attack on all.

With some 150 aircraft, 40,000 participants and 10,000 vehicles, Exercise Trident Juncture is the largest collective defence exercise NATO has conducted in over a decade.

Earlier this week British Army vehicles and equipment were loaded onto Channel Tunnel trains before arriving in The Netherlands today as part of the complex logistical task of transporting a Battlegroup to Norway – a journey that includes road, rail and ferry.

Members of the Royal Logistics Corps are lending their expertise in support of the road move while in Norway soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment, the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment and supporting units will train together with NATO allies.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “NATO is the bedrock of our defence where Britain plays a leading role. Whenever the call comes, the UK is foremost in stepping up to support our friends and allies across the globe.

“This exercise demonstrates the strength of our collective defence. Together we are ready to tackle any threat, from any direction.”

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From Soldier to Civilian: Behind the Ex-Forces Experience

Defence features writer Robert Atherton speaks with Julie McCarthy, Director of Volunteer Operations at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity to find out more about the ex-forces experience and the difficulties encountered when transitioning from soldier to civilian. 

For the uninitiated, SSAFA is the UK’s oldest tri-service charity. For over 130 years, the organisation has supported service personnel, veterans and their families, helping them to live with independence and dignity. SSAFA does this through face to face support – be it bereavement counselling, mentoring services to transitioning personnel or an extensive prison inreach programme to give veterans in the criminal justice system an opportunity to get their lives back on track.  

Speaking to SSAFA, it quickly becomes clear that the transition from soldier to civilian is anything but simple. Transitioning servicemen and women often have complex needs, from financial considerations to emotional or physical concerns. Having served over a period of years or even decades, they may find themselves out of touch with civilian life or in need of significant retraining. And so, for SSAFA, it’s very much about outfitting ex-service personnel with the skills and support they need, not just to survive but to thrive. 

“It’s a bit of a culture shock,” admitted Julie McCarthy, Director of Volunteer Operations at SSAFA. “Our latest report – The Nation’s Duty – found that veterans often feel wider society doesn’t understand them; that the UK doesn’t value military service as much as the US. There’s overt support for the Armed Forces in the United States that the people we speak to say isn’t as present in Britain.” 

In total, 1,000 veterans were surveyed as part of The Nation’s Duty, which sought to highlight society’s “disservice” to a new generation of veterans. The findings were overwhelmingly negative, with 62% admitting that they felt undervalued by society as a whole. It’s a shocking admission; one that paints a sad picture of prevailing attitudes to ex-service personnel. 

 But if this is the case, why have attitudes to our Armed Forces changed so dramatically? McCarthy suggests that soldiers simply aren’t in the public eye as much as they once were – during the Iraq War, for instance. The majority of ex-service personnel surveyed seemed to agree, with 67% saying there was less respect for veterans when the Armed Forces were not in conflict. And yet, there is still a huge commitment from our soldiers every day – a fact that McCarthy is quick to point out. During the summer months, it was they who aided the fire service as Saddleworth Moor burned to a crisp; and they who provided humanitarian aid and disaster relief to the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma in 2017. For McCarthy, more needs to be done to publicise the wonderful work our services do. But until this happens, the experiences of transitioning soldiers aren’t likely to be made any easier. 

Here is where mentoring can make all the difference. SSAFA pairs sick, injured or emotionally vulnerable servicemen and women with select mentors on a one-to-one basis to build their confidence and help them acclimatise to a new way of living. The mentors come from all walks of life, and often have no military experience themselves – the thinking being that if a soldier has been discharged from the Armed Forces unwillingly, they may not engage with a serviceperson. Instead, civilian mentors bring empathy and life skills to the table, and SSAFA is careful to offer them support in return. 

Employment is an obvious pitfall, however. Not every veteran walks into a full-time job. In fact, anecdotal evidence from Cranfield University suggests that ex-service women are more likely to struggle securing paid employment in comparison to their male counterparts. Historically, the Armed Forces have been male dominated. Thankfully, this has changed a great deal but perhaps the infrastructure isn’t in place to support women in the same way it is men. 

For her part, McCarthy is supremely confident in the abilities of the veterans SSAFA supports, and says that their employment prospects are endless. “In our experience, the service personnel that we support have such a wide variety of skills that no one sector is a natural fit,” said McCarthy. “With a little help, they have the ability to excel in any industry – but their military trade might make one sector a better fit than another.” 

It’s worth remembering that soldiers aren’t alone in the transition, however. Often their families bear the brunt of the change – even more so if a family member returns from service with complex needs. “It’s as much about families as it is the service personnel themselves,” said McCarthy, who – as a military spouse – has herself been ‘in the army’ for 24 years. “We move homes, manage households and hop from job to job following our soldiers, sailors and aircrew across the country. Families have a huge amount to offer but they may need support as well.” 

For the servicemen and women exiting our Armed Forces, the transition may well be a concern – particularly if they already feel undervalued by the world they’re re-entering. Change is never easy, but help is available. For McCarthy, however, the issue is one of planning. It’s never too early to think about life outside the Armed Forces. 

“Service personnel often underestimate when they should start thinking about their own transition. They begin the moment they sign off, when actually they should have started five years ago,” said McCarthy. “The transition itself is so important. If we can get it right, through military or charitable support, we’ll have fewer veterans coming to us five or ten years down the line, their lives having imploded.” 

For more information about SSAFA, please visit: www.ssafa.org.uk 

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New £1bn Royal Navy deal will support over 700 British jobs

Defence Minister, Stuart Andrew, has announced that new contracts expected to be worth over £1 billion have been signed with British firms to support Royal Navy ships for the next decade.

The contracts, which will secure over 700 jobs at shipyards across the country, will support the UK’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and the Royal Navy’s Survey and Hydrographic Fleet. The deal covers 17 ships and will improve how spares, repairs and maintenance work are carried out.

The successful companies will work on the ships at dockyards around the UK to ensure they are serviced and fitted with the latest equipment and systems, whether they are undergoing a refit, undertaking training or on operations.

The deal is expected to deliver savings worth over £100 million for defence, with agreements including delivering improved support and greater efficiency in ways such as new support solutions and improved performance targets.

In addition to the four already signed, a further three contracts under the Future In Service Support (FISS) project are expected to be signed within the next year. The news is the latest development in supporting the nation’s military ships, after the MOD unveiled a new model worth around £1 billion to support the Royal Navy fleet and sustain over a thousand British jobs.

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said: “This £1 billion deal secures work for some of our world-leading shipyards into the next decade, supporting over 700 jobs for workers to ensure our ships remain at sea to defend the nation. This vital work is not only great news for our Navy, but also underlines the importance of defence to our national skills and prosperity.”

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