2014: The year's biggest Army Technology stories

The UK Ministry of Defence announced it could allow women to apply for ground close-combat roles in 2016, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine following heavy clashes between government forces and separatists, and US President Barack Obama authorised US soldiers to continue combat operations in Afghanistan in 2015. Army-technology.com wraps-up the key headlines from 2014.


Women soldiers

UK MoD could open up ground combat roles to women in 2016

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced it could allow women to apply for ground close-combat roles in 2016, following the publication of a review.

The paper included findings from a review undertaken by the UK Chief of the General Staff Sir Nicholas Carter.

Launched in May, the tri-service review has ended the long-held belief that mixed close ground combat units would have an adverse effect on cohesion between frontline soldiers, but called for more research into the physiological demands placed on troops in close-combat roles before making a decision on lifting the current ban.

Pakistan Taliban kills students at Pakistani Army school

Raheel

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants killed 141 people, including 132 children, at an army-run high school in Peshawar, north-west Pakistan.

Nine teachers and staff members were also killed, with many others wounded in what has been described as one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country in recent years.

According to media reports, six Taliban suicide bombers disguised as security guards entered the school on 16 December from the back entrance and went from classroom to classroom, shooting students.

France and Saudi Arabia sign $3bn weapons deal to arm Lebanese Army

France and Saudi Arabia signed a $3bn agreement to provide weapon systems to the Lebanese Army.

The deal, which is the largest aid offered in Lebanon's history, was first announced in December and comes at a time when the Lebanese Army is battling jihadists in the north and at its border with Syria.

Without disclosing the type of weapons to be supplied, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement: "I welcome the signing of the contract to assist the Lebanese Army."

Chuck Hagel steps down as US Defence Secretary

Chuck Hagel

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned from his post after serving for less than two years at the Pentagon.

US President Barack Obama's third Pentagon chief and a former Republican senator, Hagel was appointed in February 2013.

He replaced Leon Panetta in Obama's second term.

Obama said: "When I asked Chuck to serve as secretary of defence, we were entering a significant period of transition."

President Obama extends US combat mission in Afghanistan through 2015

US President Barack Obama reportedly authorised American soldiers to continue combat operations in Afghanistan through to 2015.

The move expands on earlier plans that limited US soldiers to counter-terrorism strikes against al-Qaeda after 2014, by giving them a wider role to fight against the Taliban alongside the Afghan Army, as reported by The New York Post.

Devised as part of Nato's Operation Resolute Support in May, the plan had permitted a small contingent of 1,800 US troops for counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda.

UK Army's Watchkeeper UAS conducts first flight in Afghanistan

Watchkeeper

The UK Army's Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft system (UAS) successfully completed its first operational flights from Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.

Manufactured by Thales UK, it provides force protection for UK soldiers, as they prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan.

UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "Watchkeeper is the first unmanned air system developed and built in the UK to become operational and will be a significant surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the army for years to come."

Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels agree to end fighting in eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russia rebels

The Ukrainian Government and pro-Russia rebels signed a nine-point memorandum to peacefully settle the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

The accord was signed by representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to add substance to a ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, on 5 September 2014.

Under the terms of the agreement, the two sides will establish a 30km buffer zone by moving weapons with a calibre of more than 100mm at least 15km away from the contact line on both sides, including from residential areas, RIA Novosti reported.

Thai Army declares coup and suspends constitution

The Royal Thai Army took control of the country in a non-violent coup and suspended the constitution, as it prepared to resolve the long-running political crisis.

The military, which invoked martial law on 20 May, also announced a night-time curfew across the country and ordered several cabinet ministers, including the ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, to immediately report to the new governing military commission.

Thai Army chief general Prayuth Chan-Ocha said the coup was needed to reform political, economic and social structures.

Flight anomaly aborts US Army's advanced hypersonic weapon testing

Hypersonic weapon

The US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command aborted the flight test of the advanced hypersonic weapon (AHW) shortly after its launch due to a flight anomaly.

Launched from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, the weapon was expected to fly to the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean at speeds of nearly 4,000 miles / hr, The Washington Free Beacon reported.

The US Department of Defense said in a statement: "Due to an anomaly, the test was terminated near the launch pad shortly after lift-off to ensure public safety. There were no injuries to any personnel.

"Programme officials are conducting an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the flight anomaly."

US deploys military personnel in search of missing Nigerian girls

The US Department of Defense (DoD) deployed a team of ten US Africa Command (AFRICOM) personnel to assist the Nigerian Government in the search of the schoolgirls abducted by terrorist group Boko Haram.

Pentagon spokesperson US Army colonel Steve Warren said the soldiers would coordinate with the Nigerian Government to assess what assistance the US can provide to the country.

"The Defense Department stands firmly with the people of Nigeria in their efforts to bring the terrorist violence perpetrated by Boko Haram to an end, while ensuring civilian protection and respect for human rights," Warren said.

North Korea test-launches additional short-range rockets

North Korea test-launched 16 additional Frog short-range rockets into the sea off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced.

The test-firing represents the latest in a series of provocative launches conducted by Pyongyang in an apparent protest against ongoing joint military exercises between South Korea and the US, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

North Korea also test-fired 30 Russian-made ground-to-ground projectiles from the same location on 22 March 2014, without notifying civilian flights or vessels in the vicinity.

DARPA seeks high-power UV laser for detecting chemical and biological threats

UV Laser

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) requested proposals for compact, efficient and low-cost deep-UV lasers for detecting highly deployable biological and chemical agents, as part of its laser UV sources for tactical efficient raman (LUSTER) programme.

The programme seeks the creation of a new class of UV lasers that are 300 times smaller and ten times more efficient than existing lasers, and can either be used in current detection systems to save size, weight and power, or in new, smaller and more sensitive systems.

DARPA programme manager Dan Green said that the existing stand-off detection systems are large and heavy, and require trucks for movement.