January's top stories: UK vehicle maintenance contract, upgraded Atlas robot

Babcock International received a £900m contract to maintain the UK Army's land vehicle fleet, the Australian Defence Force's first EC135 T2+ helicopter completed its first test flight and DARPA unveiled the newly upgraded Atlas robot at an event in Waltham, Massachusetts, US. Army-technology.com wraps up the key headlines from January.


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UK MoD awards army vehicle maintenance contract to Babcock

Babcock International received a £900m contract from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the maintenance of the UK Army's land vehicle fleet.

Awarded as part of a December 2014 agreement that saw Babcock take over the land business of the MoD's Defence Support Group for £140m, the ten-year agreement is expected to transform the way the army's vehicles are maintained, repaired and stored.

It could increase to around £2bn as a result of plans, subject to value for money, to help optimise a broader scope of services. It will produce savings of approximately £500m for the army, a reduction of more than a third of current costs.

Australian Defence Force's EC135 T2+ helicopter completes first test flight

The Australian Defence Force's first EC135 T2+ helicopter successfully completed its first test flight at Airbus Helicopters' facility in Donauworth, Germany.

The 57-minute flight validated the full performance of the systems and engines.

Australia is set to receive a new training system comprising 15 EC135 T2+ rotary-wing aircraft, EC135 flight simulators and a new flight deck for the Australian Navy's new sea-going training vessel HMAS Albatross, which is part of the helicopter aircrew training system programme.

South Sudan armed groups to release nearly 3,000 child soldiers, Unicef says

Children

Unicef secured the release of nearly 3,000 South Sudanese children who have been used as soldiers by armed forces and groups during the conflict in the country.

An initial group of 280, aged between 11 and 17, were released by the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction and surrendered their weapons and uniforms during a ceremony at Gumuruk village in South Sudan's eastern Jonglei State.

Some are believed to have been fighting for up to four years and many have never attended school.

DARPA unveils upgraded Atlas robot

Atlas

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled the newly upgraded Atlas robot at an event in Waltham, Massachusetts, US.

Atlas is scheduled to be used by seven teams during the final event of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), which aims to develop human-supervised robotic technology for disaster response operations.

The upgraded robot retains only the lower legs and feet of the original design developed by Boston Dynamics, and has been fitted with a 3.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack for one hour of mixed mission operations and a variable-pressure pump system.

DARPA DRC programme manager Gill Pratt said: "The introduction of a battery and variable-pressure pump into Atlas poses a strategic challenge for teams."

 

Ukraine announces arrival of Russian forces and equipment

Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk claimed that Russia sent military forces and equipment to support pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Yatsenyuk was quoted by Ukraine's state-run media as saying: "Ukrainian military intelligence confirms the fact military personnel and equipment have been transferred from Russia to Ukraine.

"Tanks, GRAD multiple rocket systems, BUK and SMERCH systems, [as well as] radio electronic intelligence systems, are not sold at local Donetsk street markets."

US to train Syrian opposition forces

Syrian fighter

The US Department of Defense announced it will train Syrian opposition forces to fight Islamic State militants.

Pentagon spokesman navy rear admiral John Kirby said the mission is likely to involve 1,000 US soldiers, including trainers and support personnel, and will start later this year.

The forces will range from special operations to conventional, Kirby added.

France mobilises 10,000 soldiers to boost security after terror attacks

Store

France mobilised 10,000 soldiers to boost security at sensitive places in the aftermath of terror attacks in the country.

The country also deployed nearly 5,000 extra police officers to protect Jewish schools and neighbourhoods.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the troops were there to protect transport hubs, tourism sites and key buildings, and undertake general street patrols.

Le Drian said: "The threats remain and we have to protect ourselves from them."

Pro-IS supporters hack two US Centcom social media sites

The US Central Command's (Centcom) social media accounts were hacked by a group pledging allegiance to Islamic State (IS).

Centcom confirmed in a statement that its Twitter and YouTube sites that reside on commercial, non-US Defense Department servers were temporarily taken offline.

Centcom said: "Centcom's operational military networks were not compromised and there was no operational impact to Centcom. We are viewing this purely as a case of cyber vandalism."

UK MoD publishes third annual update to defence equipment plan

Merlin helicopter

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) released the third annual update to the defence equipment plan, which sets out its spending plans for the next decade.

The plan allocates nearly £163m for new equipment and support services for the armed forces.

Approximately £40bn is likely to be spent on the acquisition of submarines, while £15.4bn and £11.1bn have been allocated for land equipment, including tanks and armoured vehicles, and helicopter capabilities, respectively.

Syrian conflict killed 76,021 people in 2014, says UK's SOHR

The Syrian conflict killed 76,021 people in 2014, according to the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

The casualties documented include 17,790 civilians, 3,501 children and 1,987 women. The group also recorded deaths of at least 22,627 government soldiers or members of pro-government militias, almost 17,000 militants from Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, and more than 15,000 from moderate rebel groups and Islamist factions.

In 2013, the number was 73,447 and 49,294 in 2012, making 2014 the deadliest year yet in the four-year conflict.