Saturday, June 9, 2018

Royal Navy nuclear submarine leaves Plymouth after a 'complex' and 'challenging' refit

Maxx Channon,
8 June 2018

UK -- The Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine HMS Talent is beginning intensive training to re-join the frontline operational fleet after a major refit.
The Trafalgar Class submarine has completed an extensive multi-million pound maintenance period in HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth.
The successful end of the engineering project was marked by her crew celebrating with the formal ceremony of Ship’s Company Divisions. The tradition of divisions, steeped in history, was overseen by
Commodore J Le S Perks, Commodore of the Submarine Flotilla. Submariners were joined by 100 family and friends at the event, followed by a BBQ and games at HMS Drake.
HMS Talent is due to sail from Plymouth for operational sea training with staff of the Flag Officer Sea raining organisation.
After weeks of tough realistic scenarios preparing her for any eventualities, including combat, HMS Talent and her crew will be declared fit for duties worldwide.
Commander Jamie Mitchell, HMS Talent commanding officer, said: “This maintenance project has presented many challenges, most notably to our technical departments who have been working incredibly hard to get the submarine ready for operations.”
The maintenance period, undertaken by Babcock, includes capability upgrades enabling the submarine to operate into the next decade and remain one of the world’s most potent military assets.
Gavin Leckie, Babcock Submarine Support Director, said: “The maintenance period has been a complex project that has relied on a strong partnering ethos between Babcock, the Submarine Delivery Agency and ship’s staff and we’re delighted to see the vessel getting ready for service following its successful engineering maintenance programme. The joint project team should be incredibly proud of what they have achieved.”
The submarine’s command team initially achieved a ‘Safe for Sea’ assessment after training on shore in the ‘Talisman’ Submarine Command Team simulator at Devonport.
This realistic environment ensures the crew are safe to operate in busy shipping areas amongst merchant vessels and other and military vessels. The crew’s ability to launch Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles and discharge Spearfish torpedoes against surface and sub-surface targets was also assessed.

Putin vows all unveiled ‘breakthrough’ weapons will timely arrive for Russian troops

The Russian leader said that two nuclear-powered weapon systems are currently being developed in Russia.

Staff, TASS
7 June 2018

RUSSIA -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his annual Q&A session on Thursday that all the ‘breakthrough’ weapon systems he had announced in his address to the Federal Assembly would be timely manufactured and delivered to the troops.
"The work is ongoing according to plan under scheduled procedures. I have no doubts that they [the armaments] will be delivered to the Russian Army on schedule," Putin said.
As the Russian leader said, two nuclear-powered weapon systems are currently being developed in Russia. Specifically, these are the short-range missile and the underwater drone, he said.
"In both cases, we have completed the main stage of development, namely, the work associated with the testing of this nuclear propulsion unit," the Russian leader said, noting that some things still had to be finalized.
According to the Russian leader, those who have doubts about Russia’s ability to produce such advanced systems had also doubts in 2004 when the work on developing the Avangard weapon system began. The Russian president also said that the ‘breakthrough’ weapon he had mentioned was far from all the armaments that Russia planned to manufacture and put into service.
"As I spoke in my address, it is still early to speak about this but soon we will tell about that," Russia’s supreme commander-in-chief said.

The US's most decorated warship is also one of its least well-known — and that's the way the Navy wanted it

Ian D'Costa,
7 June 2018

There's a good chance that if you were to take a guess as to which warship was the most decorated ship in US Navy history, you'd probably get it wrong. In fact, you'd probably be shocked to learn that this vessel never once fired a shot in anger, despite being armed at all times throughout its career. If you're confused now, that's good... that's exactly the way the Navy wanted it, at least while the USS Parche was still in active service during the Cold War and beyond.
When construction began on the Parche in 1970, nobody, not even the Mississippi shipbuilders toiling away at bringing the vessel to life, had any idea about what their project would eventually become. Indeed, Parche was just another hunter/killer nuclear submarine, designed to tail and destroy enemy surface and underwater combatants with its deadly loadout of torpedoes. Ordered as part of the Sturgeon class, it was commissioned in 1974 and served for two years in the Atlantic Fleet in its originally-intended role.
In 1976, Parche was moved to the Pacific fleet and modified for the first time. Not much is publicly known about this initial retrofit, but the submarine's service exploits fell out of the public eye very quickly. As it turns out, the Navy selected Parche to support the National Underwater Reconnaissance Office — a highly secretive joint partnership between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Navy.
Over the next few years, Parche's mission set rapidly evolved from functioning as a typical run-of-the-mill attack submarine, to a ghost-like spy submarine, outfitted with monitoring gear, reconnaissance, and surveillance systems. The submarine force is often known as the "silent service" due to the fact that submarines work best when undetected. NURO and the Navy took this a step further with crews assigned to the Parche, swearing them to absolute secrecy, owing to the nature of their command's job.
By the end of the 1970s, Parche had already made multiple trips into the Sea of Okhotsk, along with the USS Halibut and the USS Seawolf, to wiretap Soviet communications cables as part of Operation Ivy Bells. These wiretaps, undetected until a National Security Agency leak in the mid-80s, proved to be extremely invaluable in picking up Soviet military intelligence. The Parche also assisted with recovering the fragments of Soviet anti-shipping rockets, so that the Navy could analyze them and develop countermeasures to safeguard its own vessels.
Parche, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, underwent a number of additional overhauls that beefed up its surveillance apparatus, adding cameras and an elongated hull to make room for more gear and a larger crew complement, among other things. Like the USS Seawolf, the Parche was given a set of "skegs," or underwater skids, earlier on. These skegs allowed it to sit on the ocean floor while divers moved in and out of the hull of the submarine on wiretap and debris recovery missions.
By the early 2000s, Parche had gotten too old for its missions. The Sturgeon-class was already almost fully retired from the Navy, having been replaced by the Los Angeles and Seawolf classes of hunter/killer nuclear boats. Eventually, in 2004, the decision was made to pull the aging spy submarine, euphemistically referred to as a "special projects platform," from active service for its long-overdue retirement.
After around 30 years of service, Parche was decommissioned and scrapped, though her sail with its markings was removed and placed on display in Bremerton, Washington. Today, the USS Jimmy Carter, a Seawolf-class submarine, serves the same purpose and operates under the same conditions that Parche did, functioning as America's premier spy sub.
Even though Parche's exploits will remain hidden from public sight for decades to come, one only has to look at the marks that denote 9 Presidential Unit Citations, 10 Navy Unit Commendations and 13 Navy Expeditionary Medals, to know that Parche served her country faithfully in the most daring of circumstances throughout her hushed-up career.

Partisan battle for new tactical nuke looms in Senate

Joe Gould, Defense News Online
6 June 2018

WASHINGTON - Democrats want to take their fight against the Trump administration’s planned a new low-yield tactical nuclear weapon to the Senate‘s annual defense policy bill.
It’s the latest flashpoint in a partisan divide over whether to pursue a new, tactical submarine-launched nuclear missile. The Pentagon and others advocate for the systems to deter Russia from using its own arsenal of low-yield nuclear weapons, but opponents see it as lowering the threshold for a nuclear war.
The Senate Armed Services Committee began debate on its $716 billion annual defense policy bill Wednesday, which contains a provision removing restrictions on the U.S. development or deployment of such a weapon without congressional authorization. The bill would grant the energy secretary new authority to carry out the weapon’s energy development phase, or any subsequent phase, without Congress’ specific approval.
Democrats plan to offer an amendment to preserve congressional oversight, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a floor speech Wednesday. Reed is among lawmakers who crafted the restrictions in 2003.
“I have spent countless hours [on the issue], and I’m not alone,” Reed said. “My colleagues on the committee and many members of this Senate have spent hours thinking about the issues that are caused by these proposals. I’m concerned that we have not fully grasped all the complex implications. Indeed, there is an honest disagreement among experts in the field on this issue.”
“Given the policy ramifications of development and deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons and any type of nuclear weapon, I believe that Congress should be involved every step of the way,” Reed said.
Reed’s House counterpart, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., has voiced outright opposition to the weapons.
The 1,140-page 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which still faces months of congressional debate before becoming law, tackles a broad range of policy and budgetary matters, including troop pay, weapons procurement and bureaucratic reforms. It must be reconciled with its analogue in the House, where Republicans parried other Democratic attempts to scuttle the weapon.
The panel’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe — who is stewarding the bill while SASC Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., battles cancer at home — seemed to support the idea of a floor debate on the matter as the chamber takes up amendments to the bill.
“I know there will be some controversy,” Inhofe said in his floor speech. “The ranking member and I don’t agree on everything, and this is one area that we probably don’t agree on. We want to have amendments and open debate, and that’s what we’re going to have.”
SASC Airland Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cotton, R-Ark., authored the bill’s language, and he appeared to be ready for debate this week.
“It’s troubling that Democrats want to play politics with our national security, but we simply can’t afford to let our adversaries around the world have the competitive edge when it comes to nuclear weapons,” Cotton communications director Caroline Tabler said in an email Tuesday.
In the opposing corner is senior Democratic appropriator Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has said she is troubled by the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review and its call for a new weapon. On Tuesday, she alerted colleagues to the Cotton amendment, reading it at the Democratic Caucus lunch meeting.
She has expressed objection to a Cabinet-level secretary being able to initiate the advanced engineering a new nuclear weapon without Congress’ specific approval.
“The amendment, I think, is very dangerous,” she said Wednesday.

Brazil starts testing laboratory generators for nuclear submarines

Victor Barreira, Jane’s 360
5 June 2018

BRAZIL - Brazil will start integration testing of turbo generators of its Nuclear Power Generation Laboratory (LABGENE) at Aramar Nuclear Industry Centre (CINA) in Iperó, state of São Paulo, on 8 June.
The testing marks a significant advancement in Brazil’s effort to develop a submarine nuclear power plant. At the same time, Brazil will start building its Multipurpose Reactor (RMB).
Operated by the Navy Technology Center in São Paulo (CTMSP), the 48 MW LABGENE integrates the Navy Nuclear Programme (PNM). It also performs the ground prototyping for a nuclear propulsion plant used to perform experiments and validates the operating conditions of a pressurised water reactor (PWR) type, which will lead for the construction of nuclear propulsion unit for the first Brazilian nuclear-powered attack submarine SN-BR Álvaro Alberto.

New submarine could swim without engine

6 June 2018

Researchers have developed a new propulsion concept for swimming robots.
The robot exploits temperature fluctuations in the water for propulsion without the need for an engine, propellant or power supply.
As a proof-of-concept study, the researchers developed a 7.5-centimetre mini-submarine equipped with paddles, which they fabricated entirely using a multi-material 3D printer.
The paddles are actuated using a bistable propulsion element triggered by two shape memory polymer strips as previously developed by ETH Professor Kristina Shea and her doctoral student Tim Chen. Designed to expand in warm water, the polymer strips power the robot by acting like “muscles”.
If the water in which the mini-submarine floats is heated, the expansion of the “muscles” causes the bistable element to quickly snap, triggering a paddle stroke. The directional motion, force and timing of the paddle strokes are precisely defined by the robot’s geometry and material.
Vessel with multiple propulsion elements
At present, each actuating element can execute a single paddle stroke and must then be reprogrammed manually. However, as the scientists point out, it is possible to fabricate complex swimming robots with multiple actuators.
The scientists have already made a mini-submarine that can paddle forward with one stroke, release its “cargo” (a coin) and then navigate back to the starting point with a second paddle stroke in the opposite direction, all by sensing changes in temperature of the water.
Varying the geometry of the polymer muscles allowed the scientists to define the sequence at which the paddle stroke is triggered: thin polymer strips heat up faster in warm water and therefore respond faster than thicker ones.
A potential development would be using polymers that do not react to the water temperature, but to other environmental factors such as the acidity or salinity of the water.
“The main takeaway from our work is that we have developed a new and promising means of propulsion that is fully 3D printed, tuneable and works without an external power source,” says ETH Professor Shea. This could possibly be developed further to create a low-power vessel for exploring ocean depths..

Navy’s Knifefish Unmanned Mine Hunter Passes Sea Acceptance Testing

Ben Werner,
5 June 2018

The Navy’s Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle, a key component of the Littoral Combat Ship’s mine-hunting capability, successfully completed sea acceptance testing off the coast of Massachusetts.
The Knifefish, built by General Dynamics and based on the Bluefin Robotics Bluefin-21 deep-water Autonomous Undersea Vehicle, is a self-propelled, untethered vehicle designed to hunt for mines without requiring an LCS or other manned ship to enter a minefield.
By successfully completing the sea acceptance testing, the program now moves to the next phase of development – developmental test and operational assessment – according to General Dynamics.
“These tests prove the Knifefish system can detect, classify and identify undersea mines in high-clutter environments,” Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of General Dynamics Mission Systems, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the first group of Navy fleet operators have completed their initial Knifefish training, conducted by the General Dynamics team, so they can operate the system during the upcoming developmental test and operational assessment.
Unlike other autonomous vehicles that tow a sonar, Knifefish has a sonar built into its body. But the Knifefish program has been hampered by previous concerns about its range and endurance.
In 2016, delays in reaching important production milestones, a $2.3-million fix to the communications system that helps Knifefish talk to operators aboard LCSs, and ongoing problems with Knifefish’s ability to accomplish its core mission – detecting mines – resulted in a 2016 Department of Defense Inspector General report recommending the Navy consider canceling the program if the problems could not be ironed out by the end of 2017.
If the Navy could not revalidate that Knifefish was the right solution to identify buried and other mines, then the IG recommended the Navy was better off canceling the program and finding a “better use” for the $751.5 million dedicated to Knifefish research, development, testing, evaluation and acquisition.
By the end of 2017, General Dynamics and the Navy had worked out the program’s bugs sufficiently to declare a successful completion of contractor trials, according to a statement released by General Dynamics at the time.
“The Navy is pleased with the Knifefish performance during the recent contractor trials, as the system demonstrated its ability to reliably find mines in different environments,” Capt. Jon Rucker, unmanned systems program manager within the Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants (formerly PEO LCS), stated in the 2017 General Dynamics news release.
“Knifefish provides the Navy a critical means to find and identify bottom, buried, and volume mines, providing a much-needed capability for the warfighter.”