British forces hand over control of last base in Afghanistan

British forces Sunday handed over formal control of their last base in Afghanistan to Afghan troops, ending combat operations in the country after 13 years which cost hundreds of lives.

The handover was hailed by British Prime Minister David Cameron but the southern Helmand province that foreign troops are leaving behind still confronts a resilient Taliban insurgency and remains a hub for opium production.

The Union Jack was lowered at Camp Bastion while the Stars and Stripes came down at the adjacent Camp Leatherneck — the last US Marine base in the country.

All NATO combat troops will depart Afghanistan by December, leaving Afghan troops and police to battle Taliban insurgents on their own.

The huge joint base built in the desert near the provincial capital Lashkar Gah was the most important installation for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Between 2010 to 2011, it housed almost 40,000 foreigners including sub-contractors.

Hundreds of US Marines and British troops are set to leave Helmand soon, though the precise date has not been revealed for security reasons.

In a ceremony Sunday the Afghans took formal control of the base, despite already being present in a portion of it. The British and US flags were lowered, leaving only Afghanistan’s national flag to flutter in the breeze.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron later tweeted: “As flag lowers at Camp Bastion, our Armed Forces can return with their heads held high – proud of all they have achieved to keep us safe.”

A total of 453 British troops and 2,349 Americans were killed.

Many facilities such as pipelines, buildings, roads and even office furniture remain in place, with the US alone estimating $230 million worth of equipment is being left behind.

- A failure? -

Marine General Daniel D. Yoo, regional commander, said the Afghan army is now now capable of taking over the reins.

“I’m cautiously optimistic they will be able to sustain themselves. I know from my experience that they have the capability and the capacity if they allocate the resources properly,” he said.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished here,” added the officer, who was among the first Marines on the ground in autumn 2001, when a US-led coalition toppled the Taliban who had been in power since 1996.

General Sayed Malook, who leads the Afghan forces in the region and has now established his quarters in the base, said the camp would become a military training centre and house 1,800 soldiers.

“I’m certain we can maintain the security,” he said Sunday. Asked about the departure of the NATO troops, he said: “I’m happy and sad. I’m happy because they are going to their home, I’m sad because they are friends.”

Not everyone shared his optimism.

Atiqullah Amarkhail, a former high-ranking general turned analyst said the British mission in particular was a failure.

“You see that the British are leaving a broken Helmand, where the Taliban insurgency is at its highest, and government forces are struggling to hold territories, and the province is producing almost fifty percent of the world’s opium,” he said.

“These are all signs that the British mission in Helmand have been a failure.

“They failed to prevent the Taliban come back and they are leaving it to Afghans and Americans to clean up. I see a bleak future for Helmand and southern Afghanistan now. The only hope is that the Afghan forces will be able to correct the British mistakes there.”

At Camp Leatherneck troops busied themselves with packing up, sorting out what medical equipment will go and what will remain.

Corporal Ruf Stevens, in charge of vehicle transport, returned to his hut with his assault rifle in one hand and a guitar he found in a dustbin in another.

“I just think we got the job done. It’s a dirty job but pride come with it,” he said.

The operational command centre, a small room in a wooden hut filled with surveillance screens and computers, is seeing out its final days.

Surveillance has picked up little in the way of insurgent activity in recent days as the yearly fighting season comes to an end.

After Camp Leatherneck and Bastion, the most important NATO bases will be at Kandahar, Bagram, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.

There are now about 40,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, down from their 2011 peak of around 140,000.

A residual force of around 12,000 soldiers including 9,800 Americans and 500 Britons will remain after December as part of a security pact signed by new president Ashraf Ghani.

Their role will be training Afghan troops and counter-terrorism.


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Successful Final Qualification Firing for MdCN

By on Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

The French DGA (Direction Générale d’Armement) has successfully carried out the final qualification firing of the MdCN system (Missile de Croisière Naval, also known as NCM or Naval Cruise Missile).

The firing, which took place on 27th October 2014 at the DGA’s “Missile Test Centre” at Biscarrosse (Landes) on France’s Atlantic coast, represented a missile launch from a frigate.

The firing enabled the full scope of flight objectives to be satisfied, particularly regarding the demonstration of the missile’s range performance. This success comes as a result of the intense and coordinated efforts of a number of state participants (notably the DGA’s test and evaluation centres and the French Navy) as well as industry (MBDA France).

MdCN will equip the French Navy’s FREMM (multi-mission frigates) during 2015 and its Barracuda submarines in around 2018.

Featuring a range of several hundred kilometers, MdCN has been devised for striking targets deep within enemy territory. It complements the air-launched cruise missile, Storm Shadow/SCALP, from which it is derived.

Carried on surface warships positioned safely for prolonged periods in international waters, overtly (frigates) or discretely (submarines), MdCN has been designed for operations calling for the destruction of high value, strategic infrastructures.

MBDA was awarded the MdCN contract by the DGA in 2006.


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France to Deliver First Mistral to Russia Around Mid-November

By on Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

The ceremony for France handing over to Russia the first Mistral helicopter carrier will occur in mid-November of this year in the city of Saint-Nazaire, a representative from the port city’s worker’s union told RIA Novosti on Monday.

“The ceremony of France transferring the first Mistral helicopter under the name of the Vladivostok to Russia is [scheduled for] November 14 of this year,” the representative said.

He said the date is not yet official, but the wharf’s employees are preparing for the ceremony.

Earlier on the day, a representative for STX shipbuilding company told RIA Novosti that the handing over of the first Mistral ship is a matter of days or weeks.

In June 2011, Russia and France signed a 1.2 billion euro ($1.5 billion) deal for two Mistral-class helicopter carrier ships. The first carrier, the Vladivostok, was scheduled to arrive in Russia by the end of 2014. The second ship, the Sevastopol, is expected in 2015.

Earlier in September, French President Francois Hollande threatened to suspend the deliveries of the ships over Moscow’s alleged involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.

In October, Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov claimed that Moscow will sue France in case the obligations on the Mistral carriers are not fulfilled. Last week, the Russian Navy said the country is not dependent on France on the issue and is capable of building similar warships on its own.


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DOD and Lockheed Announce Principle Agreement on Purchase of F-35s

The U.S. Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin have reached an agreement in principle for the production of 43 F-35 Lightning II aircraft. Officials anticipate the Low-Rate Initial Production lot 8 (LRIP 8) contract to be finalized in the coming weeks. The contract is for fiscal year 2014 with deliveries beginning in 2016.

Cost details will be released once the contract is finalized; however, in general, the average unit price for all three variants of the airframe in LRIP 8 is approximately 3.6 percent lower than the previous contract.

“Today’s agreement is representative of the program’s ongoing maturation,” said F-35 Program Executive Officer, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan. “Once production of LRIP 8 aircraft is completed, more than 200 F-35s will be in operation by eight nations. We are glad the Government and LM are completing a fair and reasonable contract for the 8th lot of aircraft.”

The LRIP 8 contract procures 29 U.S. aircraft including 19 F-35As, six F-35Bs and four F-35Cs. It also provides for the production of the first two F-35As for Israel, the first four F-35As for Japan along with two F-35As for Norway and two F-35As for Italy. The United Kingdom will receive four F-35Bs. The contract also funds manufacturing-support equipment as well as ancillary mission equipment.

“Affordability is a key performance parameter in today’s challenging acquisition environment.” said Lockheed Martin F-35 Program General Manager Lorraine Martin. “Working together with our suppliers, we are making steady progress in reducing F-35 costs. While there will always be room for improvement, the results of the LRIP 8 negotiations and initiatives like the Blueprint for Affordability are indicative of our shared commitment to ensuring affordability.”

Launched earlier this year, Blueprint for Affordability aims to reduce the price of an F-35 5th generation fighter to the equivalent of today’s 4th generation fighters by the end of the decade. The initiative leverages upfront investments from key industry partners Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman to drive down production costs. Cost savings from this initiative will begin in LRIP 9.

The LRIP 8 aircraft join 166 F-35s contracted under LRIPs 1-7. As of October 24, 2014, 115 F-35s, including test aircraft, were delivered from Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The U.S., eight Partner nations, and Foreign Military Sales participants have announced plans to procure more than 3,100 F-35 aircraft over the life of the program.


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UK MoD Set to Order Its First Batch of F-35 Lightning II Combat Aircraft

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon today announced that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has reached agreement in principle on an order for the first production batch of four Lightning II stealth combat aircraft – which will operate from both the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers and RAF land bases.

A formal contract is expected to be placed within weeks for the F-35B aircraft, which form part of the MOD’s investment in Lightning II over the next five years to procure an initial 14 of these multi-role fifth generation aircraft, together with the necessary support arrangements and infrastructure.

Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said:

“Today’s announcement is a major step forward. The Lightning II will equip the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force with a highly advanced multi-role stealth combat aircraft, operating from both our new Queen Elizabeth class carriers and land bases.

“These aircraft will form part of the first UK-based squadron of F-35s, which will take up station at RAF Marham in 2018. This programme is also bringing substantial industrial benefits to the UK, providing thousands of skilled jobs in the UK aerospace industry.”

Bernard Gray, the MOD’s Chief of Defence Materiel, said:

“I am delighted that this agreement prepares the way for the first batch of operational combat aircraft. It ensures the MOD remains on target for achieving both operational capability from land bases and the start of flying trials aboard the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.”

Air Commodore Mark Hopkins, Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) for Lightning II, said:

“Lightning II will be a genuinely transformational aircraft when it enters service with the RAF and the Royal Navy. With highly advanced sensors, systems and weapons, this fifth generation stealth aircraft will offer a quantum leap in terms of capability and, alongside Typhoon, will offer the UK flexible and adept Air Power for the foreseeable future.

“As the first batch order for aircraft to form part of our first operational squadron, this marks a very significant milestone in this programme.”

It is anticipated that the contract will be finalised in the coming weeks, which will allow deliveries of the aircraft, within the contract, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, to commence from mid-2016.

The aircraft provide an important step on the path to rebuilding the UK’s carrier strike capability. They feature short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) and the latest stealth and intelligence surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) technology.

Background Information

  • The UK has already taken delivery of three F-35B jets to date, which are based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, US, and an order was placed for a fourth UK aircraft in September 2013 which will be delivered early in 2016. These are for test and evaluation. The UK’s first operational Squadron will transition to RAF Marham in Norfolk in 2018, which will become their Main Operating Base.
  • The agreement is part of a larger contract award which will be let by the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office (JPO), based in Washington DC, with Lockheed Martin, and will procure a total of 43 aircraft for the Programme across six nations.
  • Significant UK sub-contractors to the programme include BAE Systems, Cobham, GE Aviation, Honeywell, Martin Baker, MBDA, Qinetiq, Rolls-Royce, Selex Galileo, Ultra Electronics & EDM Limited.


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DCNS Unveils SMX-Ocean, A New Blue-Water SSK with Expanded Capabilities

By on Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

At Euronaval 2014, DCNS is unveiling the SMX-Océan conventionally powered attack submarine. The new vessel draws extensively on the design of a state-of-the-art nuclear-powered submarine, with a number of key innovations that give this diesel-electric adaptation truly outstanding performance.

Exceptional performance
This innovative concept ship promises submerged endurance and deployment capabilities that are unprecedented for a conventional-propulsion submarine. With up to three months’ endurance, an SMX-Océan could cross the Atlantic six times without surfacing. Its transit speed is up to 14 knots.

To achieve this level of performance, DCNS teams have developed and combined a number of innovations including a high-performance air-independent propulsion (AIP) system using second-generation fuel cells for submerged endurance of up to three weeks.

The SMX-Océan features the same combat system, provisions for special forces’ missions, masts and general layout as the Barracuda SSN.

4D firepower: effective against underwater, surface, land and air threats
With a total of 34 weapons including torpedoes, mines, anti-ship missiles, cruise missiles and anti-air missiles, the SMX-Océan’s firepower will be unprecedented for an SSK.

The SMX-Océan concept ship design also includes vertical launchers, another major innovation in SSK design, to provide a salvo capability for cruise missile strikes on land targets.

A reconfigurable multi-role submarine
The SMX-Ocean offers more multi-role capabilities than any other submarine of its type. It can operate alone or as part of a carrier group or other naval deployment, and will be the only conventionally powered submarine with the ability to deploy special forces, combat swimmers, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Carrier group escort
Equipped with tactical datalinks meeting international standards, the SMX-Ocean is ideal for carrier group escort roles in support of coalition operations in any theatre of operations.

Technical data

  • Length: 100 m
  • Height: 15.5 m
  • Beam: 8.8 m
  • Surface displacement: 4,750 t
  • Maximum diving depth: 350 m
  • Maximum speed, submerged: 20 kts

DCNS designs and builds submarines and surface combatants, develops associated systems and infrastructure, and offers a full range of services to naval bases and shipyards. The Group generates annual revenues of €3.4 billion and employs 13,600 people (2013 data)


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Novel Rocket Design Flight Tested

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists recently flight tested a new rocket design that includes a high-energy fuel and a motor design that also delivers a high degree of safety.

“What we’re trying to do is break the performance versus sensitivity curve, and make a rocket that’s both very high-energy, as well as very safe,” said Bryce Tappan, an energetic materials chemist at the Laboratory.

“Typically, when you look at a propellant that’s high-performance, it’s not as safe a material.” See the flight tests and hear how Tappan and his research partners at New Mexico Tech and Penn State accomplished a fully successful flight in a new video on the Laboratory’s YouTube Channel.

Conventional solid-fuel rocket motors work by combining a fuel and an oxidizer, a material usually rich in oxygen, to enhance the burning of the fuel. In higher-energy fuels this mixture can be somewhat unstable, and can contain sensitive high explosives that can detonate under high shock loads, high temperatures, or other conditions.

The new rocket fuel and motor design adds a higher degree of safety by separating the fuel from the oxidizer, both novel formulations that are, by themselves, not able to detonate.

“Because the fuel is physically separated from the oxidizer,” said Tappan, “you can utilize higher-energy propellants.”

After years of development and bench-top static tests, the new rocket design was recently flight tested at the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center’s Socorro launch site, part of New Mexico Tech. The new rocket design was tested against conventional, high-energy commercial rockets to enable a comparison of data gathered on velocity, altitude, burn rate, and other parameters.

“You don’t have to do much more than a few seconds of YouTube searching to find numerous failed rocket tests,” said Tappan. “So, I had that worry in the back of my mind. But once we saw that successful launch go off, it was the culmination of a lot of years of research, it was very satisfying to see it fly.”

Researchers will now work to scale-up the design, as well as explore miniaturization of the system, in order to exploit all potential applications that would require high-energy, high-velocity, and correspondingly high safety margins.


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