This time I'll comment on an entire issue of Armada International; issue 3 / 2012. Just for fun. Well, and to show how poorly aligned I am with mainstream and especially the arms manufacturer view on military affairs.
No, really, 99% for fun. Have fun!
Btw, I was a subscriber for this publication long ago, but became weary of it repeating the same blather about the very same topics over and over again. It appeared as if someone at Armada was fully employed only for writing medium AFV articles, for example.
p.6 "Where do modern soldier programmes now stand?"
related: 2009-09 Soldiers of the Future (programs)
This article is essentially about the status quo of the industry's discovery of infantry forces as cash cows. It's peanuts for big arms manufacturers, every piece of kit is only in the five-digit range. They ignored this market for long, but squeezed by the end of the Cold War they finally became interested.
The fundamental problem with these projects is even visible on the article's photos; the equipment is unwieldy and heavy. We'll probably find a way to make night vision less unwieldy than those flip-up night vision devices and heavy batteries will sooner or later be replaced by energy supply with a better energy/weight ratio, but the problem remains. It remains simply because all these gadgets are to be carried in addition to armour, weapons, ammunition, drinks, clothes, shelter, bandages and food.
It would be sensible to finally communicate that this kind of gadgetry is really for leaders and coordinators only. A mortar fire control NCO may have great use for it, an infantry platoon leader may have great use for it. Most others can only carry very much reduced electronic gadgetry sets, mostly a tiny intra-small unit radio and maybe one night sight (mounted on helmet for one eye, to be used in conjunction with weapon-mounted IR laser then or removed from helmet and attached to the weapon's sight for distances beyond ~30 m).
By the way; the Batlskin face armour advert on the other page is telling: In the old times, soldiers were trained to use their senses such as smell and hearing at night. They would be brought to a field or woods at night and asked for what they smell and hear. Some would pick up the diesel fumes smell. Then next a Leopard tank would activate its headlights, standing only 20 metres away.
Can you imagine that infantry equipped with total smell and hearing shutdown helmets would do this kind of training? Would they be sensitive to the potential ability of hostiles to detect them in the woods by the smell of tobacco or different diets as happened in Vietnam?
The ancient Romans knew better, and I think I kind of did, too.
p.20 "Today's 'must-have' assets" (about AEW&C aircraft)
This one has a funny editor glitch on page 21, where the editor has apparently marked a false info, but neither removed the marking nor has the false info been corrected. Boeing 707 models including the E-3 can cruise higher than 30k ft, of course.
The article is a typical Armada International article; an overview over the hardware on offer in a specific niche, totally devoid of any thought or critique. It's pleasant on the eyes, though.
What thought would be possible? Well, for starters AEW&C have become an almost indispensable component of sophisticated air power, with long-range air search ground or ship radars and cooperative employment of long-range heavy fighter radars from fighter chains as only real alternatives.
AEW&C remained largely unchallenged in regard to soft and hard kill countermeasures during the small wars in which it was employed, and everybody seems to have become used to this.
The Russians were fully aware of AEW&Cs potential and paid a lot of attention to countering such a capability, though. They have very long range surface2air and air2air missiles to deal with AEW&C aircraft (push them farther back at the very least, limiting their contribution to offensive actions). They also have -and seem to offer on the international arms market- various jammers developed to jam AEW&C as well as other aerial long range radar capabilities (such as E-8 with its SAR and GMTI radar capabilities).
An air war against a power which you couldn't easily stomp on without AEW&C would probably see AEW&C badly degraded in its utility. This makes datalinks between fighters and security efforts for fighters (fighters following fighters in order to keep their flanks under surveillance) even more important, and consequently datalink problems such as the initial lack of Link 16 upload capability of F-22s a really big deal.
Then again, that might turn into an actual journal article, not a mere super-superficial presentation of what's on offer.
p.28 "Swiss knife for Jack-of-all-trades whirlybirds"
Note to self: There's apparently some funny stuff to smoke out there. Wonder how entertaining my blog post titles would be if I smoked it.
I am actually questioning my "editor fault" hypothesis, for these blue markers keep appearing.
OK, the 'article' is a superficial overview on what kind of armament you can put on a helicopter. All known to me, and the only interesting thing was the photo of a firing 57 mm rocket pod of Soviet / Russian origin: It appears that the solid fuel rocket burns out before it leaves the pod, similar to Bazookas. Good for them, for this eliminates the rocket propellant debris problem once and for all: A couple years ago it was determined that Hellfire missiles could damage the launching helicopter (most likely the glass surfaces of its sensors) by ejecting high speed propellant fragments backwards. This is at most a problem for the horizontal tail if the rocket was burning out immediately.
It's interesting that the article ignores the Russian development of lots of thermobaric warheads for guided (formerly anti-tank) missiles. This warhead is meant to make such missiles more versatile. Guided 70 mm missiles may be able to occupy much of that niche, but the alternative Russian approach deserves notice if your only ambition is to give an international overview.
p.38 "Situational awareness: A lifesaver for vehicle crews"
"Situational awareness" has become a buzzword about a decade ago, as part of the "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) fashion. The idea was that if you know everything around you, you can defeat your enemy easily by exploiting this (allegedly superior) knowledge. It's a stillborn on the levels of battalion up for a fundamental reason why I reserve for a certain book, but the buzzword was recycled by hardware suppliers on the vehicular level once it was largely worn out on the higher tactics levels.
As usual, this article is merely meant to deliver a superficial overview on what's on the market.
I didn't expect them to include gunshot location sensors, for they're really not about what "situational awareness" really means. Situational awareness implies that you are aware of the rifleman before he shoots, not only afterwards. A laser-based optics detector (exploiting the reflection on the glass) as it was popular in development projects about 15-20 years ago would be more fitting. Anyway, such gunshot locators are only noteworthy if the gunshots are few; they're meant against harassing fires during occupation duty. They're not going to be really relevant during a conflict with a great power's army.
The drawing on page 40 attracted my interest: IR illuminators? Really? They're not going to be a good idea if you're dealing with well-equipped opposition; such illuminators give your position away to standard night sights over very long range.
Moreover, the depicted arrangement of sensors appears to lack redundancy and an unnecessarily large quantity of sensor emplacements has been used at the same time.
How to do it better? Well, emplace four spinning (around the vertical axis) sensors on all four corners. Voilà, 360° coverage with 2x redundancy. The spinning means some moving parts and thus probably a shorter mean time between failure, but who cares? 2x redundancy! Besides, the sensor could be built such that even if the spinning mechanism is defect you could still fix the sensor in one direction with a screwdriver. Said spinning sensor would need to have a quick refresh rate, of course. This might be a challenge at night (and only at night).
p.50 "Accessorise tactically"
Oh, I get lucky. The fun was just going away, the whole writing became dull when Armada did me a favour and provided an example of how much it likes to delve into pretty much the same topic over and over again. This article could really be joined with the soldier modernisation programmes article and nobody would have wondered about it. Well, at least it's not the gazillionth article about 8x8 AFVs.
Intro: I cannot understand analogue radio traffic. Seriously, it doesn't work for me. Therefore I hail the introduction of digital radios, which happened during about the last decade. Can you imagine that only 20 years ago we still had no practical means of audio compression and thus no good music on our computers? MIDI music ftw was the battlecry then. All hail some researchers (among them many Germans) for giving us music on our digital devices!
The digitization and compression of audio as well as certain radio technology advances allowed for a huge increase of radio chatter by the military, and this was one of the RMA drivers. Prior to the late 90's, RMA was about guided munitions more than about all the communications and sensor stuff. What are sensors good for if you cannot tell others about what you're sensing?
OK, enough intro. The article has the usual overview of hardware *yawn*. What's really missing is some information about how well the stuff works. Skull-listening microphone? WTF!? They insist on keeping me from understanding radio voices even in the digital age!
They mention hearing protection, but I didn't see a reference to hearing amplification. Yes, sometimes it would be interesting to listen into the night with help of some electronics (especially if some monster helmet obstructs your ears). Microphones could pick up the sound, electronics amplify it, filter out irrelevant noises to some degree, limit it to what doesn't damage your ear and then play the sound with almost no delay with the earphones you're wearing anyway. Among all the gadgetry displayed, I wondered why this one wasn't included. Especially as it could even be turned into a rudimentary gunshot locator without additional weight.
p.60 "Fighter market in frenzy"
I'm always irritated by such articles. This one is *surprise* yet another hardware overview. The question is: Whom does it address? I believe there are almost no people with professional interest in its information (for the ones who need it already have it). The publication does usually address a professional audience, though - as evidenced by the advertisements.
There are interesting things you could write about fighter hardware, of course. The most interesting stuff is usually in the details. One fascinating example are pylons (the things you attach munitions and drop tanks to) with a second job, such as chaff and/or flare dispenser, radar warning antennae, or even jamming equipment.
Kits for short take-off and landing (STOL) such as RATO (rocket-assisted take-off), hooks, piston engine-driven catapults and semi-mobile ski jumps are largely out of fashion, which is a pity. A high-end fighter operating from a 200 m strip of highway is a fascinating subject, especially in face of all the efforts directed at airfield attack munitions and the attention garnered by the STOVL capability of the F-35B.
The actual performance of wide field of view sensors such as the F-35's DAS is very interesting, too.
p.67 "C295 sales hit the 108 unit mark, and introduces a wealth of improvements"
I will skip this, for it appear to be a 'sponsored' article. The official author is the editor-in-chief of Armada international.
It is a pity that many military professional journals of the hardware-oriented kind (and there are dozens; I was astonished by how many poor publications advertise their issues at Eurosatory!) are so perfectly devoid of thought or commentary. Armada international is among the less horrible examples, some of them have an advertisement to the product mentioned in the article right next to the article - without exception.
I wonder what utility such journals have for professionals. JED journal (on electronic warfare and stuff) at least goes down to the component level, with advertisements for what can only be identified as spare parts by a common soldier. Such a publication has at least some actual professional audience focus, while 'newsy' overview articles as in Armada do not appear to have much value. Anyone who is working in the field knows about 95% of the journal's content without reading it.
What's the point of a publication if it's not informative, doesn't offer at least uncommon interpretations or views?
I guess there's a market for this kind of publication that consists of beginners with an initial need for superficial infos and of people who simply enjoy all the graphics and stuff.
There's an Einstein quote, which can be translated as "A smart head doesn't fit under a steel helmet."; it could be interpreted as accusing the military of a lack of intellectualism. Publications such as Armada certainly don't help the military sector's defence against this accusation.