The Iraqi air force recently fired its first AGM-114 laser-guided Hellfire missile from a AC-208 Combat Caravan. Here’s an edited version of the video MNSTC-I (the organization working with the Iraqi military) released:
For about nine months, the French government has had an unsolicited proposal on the table from Thales to provide Hermes 450s for Afghanistan operations, not unlike what the contractor is doing for the U.K. Now, a senior Thales exec says a decision on moving forward with the deployment could come in April.
There are differences between the U.K. and French operation, if the latter gets the green light. The U.K. has about 10 Hermes 450s — they’ve amassed around 17,000 flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan — on a lease basis. The basic French program is for three vehicles, probably purchased.
Thales officials believe France will suffer the same problems with the Sperwer UAV now in Afghanistan as other countries have had to deal with. That, they expect, will provide impetus to the Hermes 450 operation — the Hermes 450 also can stay aloft much longer.
Meanwhile, the contractor is hoping the Brit experience will help convince Paris. No Hermes 450s have been lost and the U.K. government just extended the fee-for-service deal by 18 months.
One issue in France is the budget. There is no clear funding line for urgent operational needs, although Paris is trying to improve the process to get equipment out to deployed forces.
There’s been interest among U.S. special operations personnel for some time to field unmanned aircraft. In fact, even though the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) still is looking for a tactical or more capable system, other units have already been working with smaller UAVs. And that’s not even talking about the support the U.S. Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency have been providing specialops units.
Nevertheless, U.S. Special Operations Command is now turning to industry to see if they can deliver UAV services, rather than just air vehicles and ground stations. The service would have to be available on a worldwide basis. The mission is for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services; armed UAVs may still be a step-too-far for outsourcing.
It’s an interesting development and one wonders if Thales is looking to get into the game. The company has already been working with the U.K. military to provide Hermes-450s on an urgent basis to forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thales also isin talks with the French government to do the same as part of the country’s force commitment to Afghanistan. (Click here to read the earlier post on those activities)
There’s been a huge demand for more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection systems in Afghanistan, particularly for full-motion video, and finally the French are looking to do their part.
As part of the French government’s new found emphasis on getting military equipment to troops in Afghanistan they will likely include the deployment of two SIDM medium-altitude, long-endurance systems (based on the Israel Aerospace Industries Heron). SIDM, the French acronym for interim MALE system, is fitted with an electro-optical/infrared payload or a radar sensor.
But the French government may also add a tactical UAV capability to what it operates in support of NATO operations. Thales is in talks about with the government about providing Hermes-450 UAVs. Thales is the prime contractor on the U.K. Watchkeeper program, which uses the Elbit Systems Hermes-450, and has already provided London a quick reaction capability of Hermes-450s in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The French are considering 5-10 UAVs of the type for Afghanistan operations. The UAVs could be in country within three months of contract award, a Thales executive suggests.
France has put more emphasis on getting military equipment into the region after an August mission went awry, leading to the death of 10 of its soldiers. As is so often the case, it took the loss of life for the bureaucracy to catch up with military needs.
The Iraqi Air Force has taken another baby step to become less dependent on the U.S., this time in the realm of intelligence collection.
After several months of working closely with U.S. trainers, the Iraqis, last week, for the first time supported an exercise using a fully Iraqi crew. The exercise was a special operations drill, with the King Air intelligence aircraft overhead.
The Iraqis used their MX15I forward looking infrared sensor to provide convoy watch, and warn of potential threats. They also conducted more broad-based surveillance. The General Atomics synthetic aperture radar is not fully operational, yet, although it should be in the coming weeks or so, U.S. officials told me when I visited the Iraqi unit.
The information can be stored or downlinked directly to the ground, although for the purposes of the exercise any alerts were provided through voice communication.
One of the issues the Iraqis apparently still have is image exploitation. The joint intelligence school is still building up a cadre of expert imagery analysts, but there’s not enough capacity or experience, yet, to adequately do the job, I was told.
So make no mistake, even though this all-Iraqi mission was an important milestone for the young service, the Iraqi Air Force is far from ready to taking on the intelligence task on its own. There’s still many aspects of how to use the system that they need to learn about, including the SAR, so it’s unlikely U.S. advisors will be gone soon.
Just to put an end, for now, on the drawn-out-drama that was involved in getting German Tornado recce jets to Afghanistan, the six aircraft are now at Mazar-e-Sharif. The 51st recce wing (not squadron, as I’d erroneously said previously) detachment should be operational mid-month. Meanwhile, my Aviation Week colleague in Italy reports, the Italians are sending two Predator-A unmanned aircraft to Afghanistan — at least someone will be providing real-time intelligence, since the German Tornados can’t do that.
Just a brief update on the status of the German Tornados due to support NATO forces in Afghanistan. Departure is now set for Monday, April 2.
German defense minister Franz Josef Jung, inspector general of the armed forces Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Luftwaffe chief Lt. Gen. Klaus-Peter Stieglitz will give the six aircraft a send off at the Jagel air base where the 51st recce squadron is based.