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The Moscow slap-chop

Below is a 5-minute primer posted last week by Rosoboronexport on Russia’s current crop of choppers for sale to international buyers with cash to spare. While many are new versions of old classics, such as the Mi-17V5 Hip and Mi-35 Hind, there are some other offerings covered as well.

The more you know…

RN adding a pair of ‘Littoral Strike Ships’ which sound cooler than what they are

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson this week announced a concept and development phase for two new vessels – called Littoral Strike Ship.

These are defined in a presser as:

Littoral Strike Ship are vessels which can command an assault force from anywhere in the world – carrying everything from helicopters and fast boats to underwater automated vehicles and huge numbers of troops. They are designed to be able to get in close to land – with ‘littoral’ literally meaning the part of the sea which is closest to the shore.

And could look like this converted container ship concept:

Why are they needed?

The RN’s “Gator” assets currently number just a pair of 21,000-ton Albion-class landing platform docks (LPDs)– HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark— as well trio of relatively new 16,160-ton Bay-class dock landing ships (LSD)– the latter used to be four but they sold one, Largs Bay, to Australia in 2011. The Bays are manned by civil mariners of the RFA, which is basically the British version of the MSC. Each of the five aforementioned British LPD/LSDs can comfortably carry about one half of a Commando battalion (of which the RMs have two, 40 Commando and 45 Commando) as well as a smattering of Chinooks, LCUs, and LCVPs.

Only one vessel on the RN’s list in recent years could carry a full Commando unit, HMS Ocean, and she was just sold to Brazil with a lot of life left in her.

So, on the outset, it looks like between the five current ‘phibs available to the RN, they could land the two 700-man Commandos available to them without much of an issue. With that, why the new vessels?

From the press conference:

Under plans being looked at by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, these assault ships would be forward deployed permanently away from the UK.

Said Williamson, “Our vision is for these ships to form part of 2 Littoral Strike Groups complete with escorts, support vessels, and helicopters. One would be based East of Suez in the Indo-Pacific and one based West of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Baltic. And, if we ever need them to, our two Littoral Strike Ships, our two aircraft carriers, our two amphibious assault ships Albion and Bulwark, and our three Bay Class landing ships can come together in one amphibious task force. This will give us sovereign, lethal, amphibious force. This will be one of the largest and best such forces anywhere in the world.”

Ahhhh, so basically Littoral Strike Ship = Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) platform but with a British jack.

USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. T-ESB 3 is able to carry four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

Which makes sense.

Have you heard of the Udav? It could be the coolest milsurp bargain handgun in 50 yrs

So back in the early 2000s, TsNIITochMash in Klimovsk near Moscow– the same storied R&D bureau that has crafted dozens of specialist weapons since WWII such as the VSS Vintorez subsonic sniper carbine, the APS underwater rifle, and the PSS suppressed pistol —came up with the SR-1 Vektor, or SPS pistol.

The Vektor. Yes, it’s wonky, but dig the 9x21mm Gyurza rounds it uses (Photo: TASS)

The SPS, chambered in 9x21mm Gyurza (a very spicy SMG round that runs like 1,300fps in a 110-grain AP loading) uses an 18 round mag and has been in service with security and police tactical units since about 2004.

The CP2 (SR2) Veresk (Heather) is a very compact Russian submachine gun that borders on being a machine pistol designed to fire the 9×21mm Gyurza pistol cartridge as well.

Fast forward 15 years and TsNIITochMash’s new Udav (Russian= boa constrictor) is a ramped up development of it which is more of a full-sized offering that includes features that are common for “combat handguns” in the West (front slide serrations, accessory rail, threaded barrel) while still keeping that really curious Gyurza chambering and an 18+1 capacity.

Its new brother, the Udav. (Photo: TsNIITochMash)

It just won a trial to replace the old-school Makarov PM in the Russian military, and Rostec (who exports all of the country’s weapons from submarines to MiGs and AKs) plans on selling it far and wide.

More in my column at Guns.com

Russia can crank out 10K rounds per day for their Thunderball-era underwater gatts

Long considered essential beachwear for Russian frogman-types, production is ramping up for the special 4.5mm and 5.66 mm dart-projectile ammo used in the country’s underwater-capable guns. The 4.5mm round fires a mild-steel flechette dart loaded atop a 39.5mm bottlenecked case and is used in the 4-shot SPP-1 pistol while the larger 5.66mm cartridge was designed for the APS rifle system.

The SPP-1 and its darts

The APS

Due to automation, the factory can now produce 10,000 of these specialty rounds per day.

More in my column at Guns.com

F-18Cs put to pasture by the Navy, kinda

The Blue Blasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 hosted a sundown service for the Charlie series F/A-18 last week. The Blasters were the last tactical squadron in the Navy flying the bird, most recently wrapping up a final deployment on USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the South China Sea in 2018.

“Today our VFA-34 family and the operational farewells an old friend,” said Cmdr. William Mathis, commanding officer of VFA-34. “Born more than 40 years ago, the Hornet entered operational service for the U.S. Navy in 1984 and for the next 35 years, she proudly served the nation from the flight deck of aircraft carriers in all the seas across the globe.”

190201-N-DN355-0024 VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (Feb. 1, 2019) Pilots from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 prepare to fly the F/A-18 Hornet for the final time. The F/A-18 Hornet entered operational service for the fleet in 1984. The aircraft’s first combat mission was in 1986 during Operation El Dorado Canyon and the legacy Hornet continued to serve in every major U.S. military operation including the Gulf War, Iraqi War, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class K.R. Jackson-Smith/Released)

Now the only guys left operating the F-18C model are aggressor units such as the Fighter Squadron Composite (VFC) 12 and the River Rattlers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 204.

Oh yeah, and the Blues, who are set to transition to the Super Hornet in coming months.

190202-N-UK306-1551 EL CENTRO, Calif. (Feb. 2, 2019) Opposing solo pilot Lt. Cmdr. Andre Webb, assigned to the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, performs a low transition take off during a practice demonstration. The Blue Angels are conducting winter training at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, in preparation for the 2019 show season. The team is scheduled to conduct 61 flight demonstrations at 32 locations across the country to showcase the pride and professionalism of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to the American public. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Schumaker/Released)

And totally neglected air units such as the USMC guys, who will keep the F-18C around until 2030 (ish).

Flying Yesterday’s Hornet, Tomorrow!

A U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet and aircrew inspect the aircraft during joint exercise Winter Fury at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, Calif., Jan. 16, 2019. Winter Fury involved both Marine F/A-18C Hornets, and Navy F-35C Lightning II’s, partnering with Air Force F-22 Raptors to perform air-to-air combat while protecting ground assets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caitlin Russell)

China on track to have six (6) carrier battle groups by 2035

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China is hard at work on their second Type 001A class aircraft carrier, CV18. It will use an electromagnetic aircraft launch system and displace somewhere on the order of 80,000-tons, making it the largest Chinese warship ever built and second only to a modern U.S. fleet carrier.

Chinese carrier Liaoning with escorts.

The PLAN has actually been in the carrier business in part since the mid-1970s, a dream realized in part when they picked up the retired Majestic-class light carriers HMAS Melbourne (R21) in 1984. Though she had a scant 868,893 nautical miles on her and was a mess, the Chinese slowly disassembled the WWII-design over a 15-year period and reportedly made extensive notes on her construction and steam catapult and landing systems as first steps towards their own carrier program. Reportedly, the Chinese Navy reverse-engineered a land-based replica of Melbourne‘s cat by 1987 and has used it in a series of trials of their own carrier-based aircraft.

The PLAN further compared the 1940s British carrier to that of the 1970s Soviet helicopter carriers Kiev and Minsk, purchased in the 1990s as floating amusement parks for tourists, to help with their own best practices in flattop construction moving forward. Then came the 67,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov-class strike carrier, laid down as the Soviet carrier Varyag in 1985, and finally completed by the Chinese in 2011 as Liaoning after she was sold in 1998 by the Ukrainians as a floating casino (!).

China’s first locally built carrier, the Type 001A aircraft carrier or CV-17, a modified Kuznetsov based on the Liaoning improvements, was launched on 26 April 2017 and is fitting out with a completion date expected sometime around 2020 as the carrier Shi Lang. The yard reportedly is using lots of Ukrainian experts and a staff of 5,000 skilled shipbuilders.

Media reports from the country now say China plans to have up to six aircraft carrier battle groups in service by 2035, according to naval experts, with Liaoning, one or two new Type 001A class vessels, as well as nuclear-powered follow-on ships as the centerpiece.

That’s a pretty aggressive growth plan with lots of potential for failure, but you have to admit, it is starting to look like a whole new Pacific in the next generation.

The M18, like the M17, only cuter

The M18, the smaller of the two variants of the Sig Sauer P320 adopted as part of the military’s 2017 MHS contract award to replace a host of legacy pistols, reportedly sailed through the recent Lot Acceptance Test conducted by the U.S. Army, according to the New Hampshire-based gun maker. While LAT tests allow for 12 stoppages in the course of 5000 rounds fired, three M18 used went to 12,000 rounds each, with no stoppages. The guns then went on to pass required interchangeability, material and accuracy tests.

You have to admit, they look pretty nice when compared to old beat-up M9s.

More in my column at Guns.com

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