March 1, 2015

Abbott's Choice of Japan Possibly Influences Defence Testimony

Australia's Senator Nick Xenophon. He comes to Senator Committe meetings well prepared with research. He then asks questions defence officers would prefer he forgot.

As the Abbott Government has already chosen Japan's Soryu even the most senior defence officials are limited in what they can say to Australian Senate Committees. To provide full and accurate answer to Senators risks being considered disloyal to Australia's (current) Prime Minister Abbott's decision - increasingly know as the Captain's Pick. Put another way accurate information should be avoided if it potentially provides ammunition for politicians who oppose the Japan decision.

Australia has stated a preference for the US submarine AN/BYG-1 combat system (made for US weapons) and US Admiral Thomas is enthusiastic that Australia buy the Soryu. The implication from this is that the US is more likely to supply its combat system with associated US weapons if Australia chooses Japan's Soryu, 

Like many countries Australia has a number of Senate Committees that seek answers from defence civilian and armed services officers. In late February 2015 in a Senate Committee meeting Senator Nick Xenophon (from South Australia) asked questions concerning Australia's known preference in “competitive evaluation process” for a submarine that is highly compatible with, or already uses US weapons. The relevant US weapons include the Harpoon (short-medium range) cruise missile, Mark 48 heavyweight torpedo, and, in future, the Tomahawk (longer range) cruise missile.

More specifically Senator Xenophon asked Australia’s Chief of Navy and the head of the Defence Material Organisation (DMO) whether Australia's defence sector could reply to the Senate Committee's Question on Notice 171. Part of 171 was:

 “Do any German designed submarines carry US weapons?” 

To this they responded that:

 “Defence is not aware of any German designed submarines that carry US weapons”.

Senator Xenophon then pointed out that a range of Wikipedia articles and official US government documents confirmed that a number of German designed submarines used or can use some US weapons, including those owned by South Korea (in Australia’s region) Greece, Turkey, Israel and Brazil.  

Most have accepted the response to Senator Xenophon as ignorance or oversight, but there is an equally likely explanation.

The head of the Navy and the head of DMO would have been aware that those who oppose "build in Japan" (such as Senator Xenophon) would have been able to use "German built submarines can use US weapons" as an argument for "build German designed submarines in South Australia". 

Naturally Abbott does not want Xenophon or the Labor opposition to be able to say "but the Navy  and DMO have already indicated that "compatibility with US weapons" is a non-argument when claiming Japan's Soryu is preferable to the German contender". 

The defence heads therefore had to rely on seeming ignorance. To provide political ammunition to Senator Xenophon would be entering into the highly political submarine selection issue, after all... 

Another possibility is that the Prime Minister's Office took carriage of the question, provided the wrong answer and the defence heads were forced to live with it. It has already been established that the Prime Minister's Office has taken much of the political carriage of the Soryu issue. After this office handled the Senate Committees questions the defence heads had to wear the acute embarrassment at the Senate committee meeting on the day.

So all this mean's that Abbott's Captain's pick of Japan's Soryu, for the sake of alliance with Japan and the US's advocacy of the Soryu, is influencing otherwise expert testimony on Australia's multi billion (taxpayer) dollar submarine selection.

This is the testimony in question given to Senator Xenophon at the Senate Committee meeting.

February 26, 2015

Reaper (Armed) Drones for Australia?

One of the armed Reapers operated by the UK Royal Air Force, were over Afghanistan, now over Iraq and Syria.
Approximate position of Reaper/Predator bases in region with greatest concentration now on Iraq-Syria. Note other drones are deployed: high altitude Global Hawks and high altitude, stealthy Sentinels. Map courtesy of which also lists the drone bases.

Several Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel are now being trained in the US to operate Reaper armed drones. This only became public in the last few days. From just a few Australians in training Australia may ramp up to a squadron sized capability of three to five Reapers over the next few years.

Reaper drones are more technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and by militaries as remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs).  

Australia has operated unarmed 1,150 kg Heron drones in Afghanistan for a few years in surveillance roles. Senior Australian officers have expressed interest inacquiring armed drones since at least 2012 . The Australian Army has worked closely with US armed drones in Afghanistan since 2012, if not before. The war against Islamic State in Iraq has made training remote aircrew for drones and acquisition of armed drones themselves a high priority for the RAAF. It is also a high priority for the Australian Army who will most probably be unofficially fighting on the ground before 2016.

In a Media Release of February 23, 2015 Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Darren Chester, announced: “…that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has commenced training aircrew and support staff on [Reaper] operations in the United States.

Mr Chester said that the training program provides a cost effective method to increase the ADF’s understanding of complex [drone] operations and how this capability can be best used to protect Australian troops on future operations.

“Unmanned aerial systems are an advancing technology with a proven record of providing ‘eyes in the sky’ in the Middle East region,” Mr Chester said.

“It would be remiss of Australia not to continue to develop our knowledge of this technology to ensure we are able to gain the greatest benefit from unmanned aerial systems and the best protection for our troops on future operations.”

“For this reason, the RAAF is training personnel in USAF MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial system operations in the United States.”

[The RAAF] currently has five personnel training to be [Reaper remote pilots and weapons and sensor] operators at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and a communication systems engineer at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.”

The UK and the US have operated armed Reapers since 2007. The US has also operated the closely related, but much smaller, Predator since 1995. The 4,780 kg Reapers can carry 1,760 kgs of weapons including Hellfire missiles, GPS programmed bombs or laser guided bombs. When carrying a couple of weapons a Reaper can loiter for around 20 hours. Scroll a third way down for a useful map and list of drone air bases that can send drones over Syria and Iraq.  

Unmanned drones and manned aircraft are limited by their pilot-equipment-network mix. Australia is operating several Super Hornets in the bombing role over Iraq. Pilots of those aircraft may only have a quick glimpse or no direct view of their target before they destroy it while Reapers drones can silently loiter for hours to be sure of their target.

One role for the eagle eyed Reaper is to detect if potential enemy are digging in improved explosive devices (IEDs) in front of an advancing allied patrol. Another role is detecting the enemy setting up ambushes against that patrol. That Reaper could fire Hellfire missiles at the enemy.

Reapers have advantages over fast jets like the RAAF Super Hornets currently over Iraq including longer loiter times, many lower operating costs, no vulnerable pilots who can be killed or captured, no jet engine wear, no mid-air refuelling needed. Reapers, unlike jets, also have the ability to silently protect patrols or convoys as these ground elements slowly move.

Reapers will complement the Super Hornets rather than replace them. One advantage of Super Hornets is that they can move, during the one mission, over long distances to trouble spots in Iraq much more quickly than Reapers. A particular problem with the Super Hornets though is that they frequently spend more time in transit (4 hours all up) from their base in the United Arab Emirates then the 3 hours at work over Iraq. Super Hornets can last longer than 7 hours with mid-air refuelling, but pilots suffer significant fatigue during these long missions while one Reaper crew can handover to a fresh crew every few hours over a 20 hour Reaper mission.

The RAAF may be asking for $300 million to buy several Reapers ($20 million per Reaper plus all the training, simulators and other network costs) . Judging from the UK Royal Air Force precedent Australia may buy 3 to 5 Reapers in the next 2 to 3 years. After piloting US Reapers in training Australian pilots at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, might possibly graduate to flying US Reapers operationally. This may be prior to moving onto Australian Reapers within 2 to 3 years.

Moral issues about US use of drones over Afghanistan and Pakistan may be related to their increasing use by the US over the years, with more targets attacked. Another issue is the use of armed drones by the CIA against countries the US is officially at peace with. Use by the RAAF over Iraq in the next two or three years should hopefully be different.

February 24, 2015

Latest on India's Aircraft Carrier Projects

India's old and new aircraft carriers. Image courtesy of The Times of India, February 23, 2015

INS Vikrant "2" on launch November 2014. Photo courtesy.

India is gradually expanding its carrier force. India may have 2 carriers by 2019. Whether both will be fully commisioned then is a question mark. Basically India may be maintaining parity with China's slowly emerging carrier capability. Major  commissioned. 

Major milestones are:  

2016 - expected retirement of INS Viraat. It was acquired from UK 1987 – 28,000 tons displacement, 11 Sea Harriers.
2016 - INS Vikramaditya rebuilt and handed over by Russia 2013. It will be India’s only commissioned carrier for 3 - 4 years after INS Viraat is decommissioned. 45,000 tons, 24 MiG-29Ks.
2019 - INS Vikrant "2" India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-I), launched 2014, under construction 2016-17. Perhaps commissioned by 2019. 40,000 tons, 12 MiG-29Ks, 8 Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA). Construction of Vikrant has already been delayed by four years with repeated technical and budgetary issues. The "2" is sometimes informally used as Google searches simply for "INS Vikrant" often turn up the preceding INS Vikrant that was decommissioned in 1997.
2030 - INS Vishal (may be completed 2030) known as indigenous aircraft carrier-II (IAC-II), maybe nuclear propelled, 65,000 ton (displacement equal to China’s carrier Liaoning). May feature Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) being developed by the US for its new Ford class supercarriers. EMALs would allow full sized carrier aircraft, like the Super Hornet, to be launched. Vikramaditya’s and Vikrant’s ski-jumps only allow up to MiG-29 weight aircraft. If a successful design Vishal may be the first of class for 2 to 3 more 65,000 ton carriers (perhaps around 2035-2040) allowing Vikramaditya to retire.
India, like Russia, US, and even Australia often under-estimate the costs and build time of weapons systems. Politicians, bureaucrats, military officers and arms builders all can underestimate the cost-length-complexity of their projects. The main aim appears to be placating the public and Treasuries whose tax-payer dollars go into paying for weapons systems. 
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Artist's conception of INS Vikrant "2" - indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-I)

This Submarine Matters post originally carried an update of India's nuclear submarine INS Arihant and Chakra (enlarge design here. They will feature in a new Submarine Matters article TBA.


February 21, 2015

Australia Narrows the Future Submarine Bidders to Japan, Germany and France.

On Friday 20, 2015 the Australian Governments decided to select a new submarine from Japan, Germany or France (but not from Sweden). The Government stressed that weight was given to the bidders actually building submarines now.

The best succinct mainstream media article, on February 20, 2015, was probably

The longest article is with more on South Australia’s expected negative reaction

For the leadup to the Friday 20, 2015 decision see particularly about the main Australian workforce involvement being the integration of the US-Australian evolved AN/BYG-1 combat system.

As things stand I would say the Australian Government's favourites are Japan, Germany and France - in that order.


February 20, 2015

Possible Japanese Submarine Deployment Area

Differing submarine patrol areas strung along China's First Island Chain. Japan's submarine patrol area may be from Kyushu, along the Ryukyu island chain (which includes Okinawa), south to Taiwan, then across the Bashi Channel down to Luzon Island, Philippines.

Part of the "First Island Chain" is what Japan calls the Senkaku Islands. A potential China-Japan-(maybe)Taiwan flashpoint due to undersea oil deposits. These deposits may become economically extractable as oil prices rise and technology permits. 

Below is an interesting snippet which may reflect how Japan's submarine fleet is deployed:

Tetsuo Kotani, U.S.-Japan Allied Maritime Strategy: Balancing the Rise of Maritime China, (Strategic Japan, Japan Chair) Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC, April 2014, pp. 1-15. wrote on page 12:

"In addition, the submarine fleet will be increased from 16 to 22. Due to the lack of Chinese ASW capabilities, the expansion of the submarine fleet enhances sea-denial capability vis-à-vis the PLAN. To patrol the waters along southwestern Japan, it is estimated that at least eight submarines are necessary (six for the Okinawa island chain [Japan to Taiwan] and two for the Bashi Channel [Taiwan to Luzon island, Philippines]. Typically, a [submarine] requires two backups for training and maintenance. Thus a submarine fleet of 24 is ideal, but a fleet of 22 provides more operational flexibility than the current fleet of 16. [35] On the other hand, for the effective use of the reinforced submarine fleet, the JMSDF needs to recruit and train more submariners." 

[35] =  [retired Vice Admiral] Masao Kobayashi, “Sensuikan 22 sekitaiseino Kaijoboei” [Maritime Defense under a 22-Submarine Force], Gunji Kenkyu [Japan Military Review], December 2011.


Page 1, 2nd paragraph indicates Japan's submarine deployments may, in part, respond to "Beijing’s attempts to deny access by other maritime powers to its Near Seas (the Yellow Sea and the East and South China Seas), which are enclosed by the first island chain (a chain of islands from Kyushu, Okinawa, to Taiwan and Borneo)." 

Japanese strategy using all forces, including submarines, is partly to provide a blockading force (in time of conflict) to keep China forces and trade bottled up in China's near seas. Japan, its SSK owning allies, and the US SSN force could also block Chinese naval vessels and supplies (such as oil) from reaching China. 

As the CSIS excerpt above indicates Japan's main submarine patrol area would be from the the southern home island of Kyushu, along the Ryukyu island chain (which includes Okinawa), south to Taiwan, then across the Bashi Channel down to Luzon Island, Philippines. 

Countries in the region may make frequent use of undersea arrays (along with future use of UUVs (including wavegliders)), particularly in narrow straits and harbour mouths. Such use would diminish reliance on virtually stationary submarines guarding critical straits and harbour mouths. 

South Korea would monitor movements in all the congested seas and straits near South Korea. In those seas are threats or possible competitors North Korea, China, Russia and Japan itself.

The US with its wide ranging SSNs may guard some straits and narrows but the speed and range of its SSNs allow open ocean (blue water) coverage throughout the Pacific, Indian Oceans and under receding Arctic ice to the Atlantic Ocean. US SSNs can act as backup to the SSK navies (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia) particularly against Russian and Chinese SSNs. All of the allies would directly or indirectly (via the US as the common ally) work together under the blanket term SeaWeb.

Naturally submarines are not the only blockers or monitors and don't work alone. Other platforms (surface warships, surveillance satellites, UAVs, UUVs, patrol aircraft including helicopters, land based missiles and ground stations (deploying radar, intercept and other arrays)) can work with submarines in the whole defence mix


February 19, 2015

Sweden and the Netherlands Replacement Submarine Needs

A Dutch Walrus class submarine. Note the serrated fin - probably for quieting and/or improved hydro-dynamic efficiency.

The issues of the Dutch Walrus class submarine replacement and the future Swedish Saab-Kockums A26 development-construction are relevant to Australia's future submarine selection. This would become more important if the Soryu is not selected for whatever reason, forcing Australia to seriously consider European submarine designs. 

Saab-Damen Agreement

Since mid-late January 2015 there have been several reports that Saab and Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards Group have signed an exclusive teaming agreement. This is  to :

- explore future opportunities in the international submarine market including bidding jointly on submarine procurement programmes, and

- explore development of a potential Walrus-class submarine replacement for the Netherlands. 

Netherlands' Situation

The Netherlands operates 4 teardrop hulled Walrus class submarines which are a development of the Dutch Zwaardvis class (2 Zwaardvis were sold to Taiwan). The Zwaadvis was based on the US teardrop hulled Barbel class (the US's last conventional subs).

Walrus specifications:

- 4 launched 1989-1992
- displacement 2,350 tons (surfaced)
- range 18,500 km at 9 knots (snorting) vs Collins 17,000 km at 10 knots (snorting)
- 20 US weapons Mark 48 torpedos and Harpoon missiles (weapons the same as the Collins. Collins has 22 torpedos) which suggest part use of a US combat system already.
- US heritage
- no reliance (like the Collins) on AIP
- like the Collins it has four combined rudders and diving planes in an "X" configuration
- with most NATO submarine being either nuclear or brown water Baltic the Walrus are considered blue water submarines. 

The Netherlands envisages acquiring just 2 submarines to replace the 4 Walruses. Just 2 may mean the Netherlands might want to use/select a common-overlapping design with Sweden. Maybe the Netherlands may settle for modified A26s.

Possible Swedish Role

While Sweden is building its own 2 - 5 A26s Sweden might build the 2 Walrus replacements or at least supply the components for assembly in the Netherlands. 

Sweden's 3 Gotland Class submarines (launched 1995-96) need replacing by 2025 and 2 Sodermanland class (relaunched 2003) for replacement by 2035(?).

Some extra issues/questions are:

1. How many A26s does Sweden intend to build? Two or five (?) - given the rising Russian threat and the Gotland-Sodermanland two tiered "gap".

2. Will the A26 have the same specifications as provided on (1900 tons surfaced? A mixture of regular 533mm torpedo tubes and unique 400mm tubes?). Saab-Kockums' own website does not give specifications of diplacement or range. 

3. Will the A26 be built with Lithium-ion batteries?

4. Would there be some technical, industrial and political overlap in the Walrus-class submarine replacement and development and construction of Sweden's future submarine A26?

5. Would the Netherlands find only 2 Walrus replacement submarines an effective number, given the "rule" of three and usefulness to the US alliance experience with the 4 Walruses. 

6. Could the Netherlands continue to justify unusually large SSKs or scale down to the usual European country own use maximum of around 1,900 tons surfaced?


February 17, 2015

Costs for the Soryu - As there is no Competition

Pricing is a major part of selection. But what if there is no competition to the Soryu? Diagram courtesy of The Australian.


When researching the Saab-Damen submarine development  agreement two interesting bits of information on Australia future submarine selection came to light. Marc Brandt, a Brussels-based industry analyst made two significant comments, probably in late January 2015 - : 

1.  "…I understand that there is a general acceptance within Saab, and government circles in Sweden, that Australia's preference for the Japanese Soryu-class sub has put this program effectively out of reach..."

2.  "...the AUS $17 billion (US $13.7 billion) Collins-class submarine replacement program..." .


The first statement supports the increasing belief that Australia's Federal (Abbott) Government has chosen Japan's Soryu. If Saab believes the Soryu is a done deal then the Australian Government's claim that there is genuine "Competitive Evaluation Process" is not being accepted by key players.

The second statement supports indications that Australia is no longer after 12 submarines - just 6, 7 or 8. Choosing as little as 6 submarines is a wise move considering the serious limitations of available Australian funds. Six is also a recognition that Australia has only been able to crew about 2.5 existing Collins at most.

Australia's previous submarine purchases also show a steady reduction in numbers. The numbers of UK built Oberon class submarines (in the Australian Navy 1967-1999) proposed for Australia shrank from 8 to 6 The proposed number of the Collins (operating 1996 – present) went from 10, to 8, to 6). 

The cost of 6, 7 or 8 may be for a "discount" of around US $14 Billion, ie. "discounted" from the original figures of US$20 to 30 Billion. Of course figures are academic until the last submarine has been launched, commissioned and paid for.

Japan's pricing for Australia, which will be Japan's first major defence customer in 77 years, will be a highly political matter. Japan sold 4 Matchanu class submarines to Thailand in 1938 .

Part of Japan's estimate might take into account:

1. how much is Australia (as a new junior ally to Japan) prepared to pay? and

2. how much of the cost of Japan's decade's old submarine development program, including the new  Lithium-ion battery (LIB) Soryu, can be transferred to Australia?

Japan, can only transfer some of its submarines development costs to one country, Australia. This is unlike Germany's TKMS which can, and has, spread the development cost load among 17 customer countries.


February 12, 2015

Technical issues and the Soryu - Lithium-ion batteries no AIP

A bank of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) for marine use. LIBs are being developed and offered for future Japanese, German, French and probably Swedish submarines.

The new batch of around 6 Soryus being built for the Japanese Navy (known as Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF)) over the next 8 years will be built around Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). LIBs represent a very significant technical departure from the existing lead acid batteries. This influences the structure of the submarine's entire electrical system (wires etc) not just the batteries themselves.

Use of LIBs may allow a submarine to stay submerged for a longer time than lead acid batterries as long as the submarine is not driven too quickly for too long as this runs the batteries flat.

Air independent propulsion (AIP)

Some confusion has been created that LIBs are some separate component replacing  air independent propulsion (AIP). This is basically untrue. LIBs are replacing lead acid batteries in new submarines to be built from around 2015. LIBs cannot be retrofitted to replace lead acid batteries in individual submarines already operating. Any battery, LIB or lead acid, will almost always rely on regular recharging from a submarine's air dependent diesel engines. Some AIP technologies can charge batteries - but there are downsides-tradeoffs. The relatively few subs in the Asia-Pacific region that have AIP (none are Australian) might still use AIP even if they are in future built with LIBs. Those that use AIP might typically want their subs capable of a close to shore (closed shallow waters, littorals, straits and harbour mouths etc) near motionless, defensive missions of up to 3 weeks submerged.

AIP, unlike batteries, cannot be recharged during a mission.

AIP has been compared (by submarine sales teams and the mainstream media) to nuclear propulsion. This is not true. AIP might allow a submarine to move at 20+ knots for 5+ hours while a nuclear reactor can run at 30+ knots for 3 months or until a crew's food runs out.

Australia decided not to use AIP in the Collins class due to Australian submarine mission profiles which need much diesel for long range rapid transit. This is even though Australia bought its subs from Kockums who are AIP experts. I haven't heard of any Australian interest in AIP for the future submarine. It is unclear whether Singapore's two HDW 218SG's on order will use AIP (but likely) and LIBs (maybe). Some Chinese subs are believed to use AIP, most likely mainly in defensive mode, not far offshore.

AIP is basically a 200 ton plug in the submarine for inclusion of a small engine and storage of extra fuel, alcohol or hydrogen and an oxidiser. The first batch of 6 to 7 Soryus (up to SS-507?) do operate with Swedish designed Stirling engine AIP technology. The next 6 Soryu will most probably use LIBs.

The downsides of using AIP include: dangerous highly flamable oxidiser, heavy moving parts that need maintenance, less effective in warm seas, 3rd party contractual issues, technical advances including LIBs partly bypassing AIP, have persuaded the Japanese Navy that AIP is not worth including in their future Soryus. The 200 tons might be better used for more diesel or batteries. Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia have not used AIP in their submarines due to AIP's marginal worth.

More on LIBs

Returning to LIBs - LIBs are reputedly lighter (than the traditional lead acid batteries they are replacing). LIBs carry more charge (greater energy density) translating into more speed or a longer period the submarine can submerge. LIBs should take less time to recharge, so there is less "indiscretion" time when the submarine has to snorting-snorkel near the surface. The increased capability of anti-submarine sensors, including those mounted on satellites and UAVs, mean that  submarines in near surface snorting mode are becoming more vulnerable.

LIBs involve potential technical risks. LIBs may be more prone to catch fire (based on experience with the 787 aircraft LIBs). LIB use for submarines may be becoming safer than aircraft use due to heavier submarine LIBs with the extra mass more able to absorb heat. This should mean submarine LIBs do not get as hot as aircraft LIBs - hence submarine LIBs should be less prone to catching fire.
A second major difference is that aircraft LIBs have (or had) no dedicated fire suppressant systems while such systems should be built around submarine LIBs. Overall the experience of ironing out bugs on aircraft and car LIBs is valuable in the development of submarine LIBs.

New technology always involves some uncertainty. Lead acid batteries for submarine have a record of use since 1888 (hence their characteristics are more predictable) while LIBs probably have no operational use on submarines. The replacement cycle for submarine LIBs is also hard to predict.

Before Australia operates Soryus Japanese Navy Soryus will most probably have had several years experiece of using LIBs - hopefully ironing out all the bugs. Australia may be better placed if there is an option of deciding on LIBs or lead acid batteries before Soryus earmarked for Australia begin to be built.

Germany, and France are also developing and beginning to offer LIBs for submarine use. Presumably Sweden, South Korea and the US (for backup batteries) are also developing submarine LIBs.

Life Cyle Differences

One additional issue is that the Japanese Navy has been running its submarines with the assumption the service life is 15-20 years while Australia assumes submarines should be in service for at least 30 yours. This may or may not be a problem. After 15-20 years moving parts may or may not start to wear out. This may be most significant in the submarine's diesel engines and the very large electrical motor. Changing engines-motors is very heavy maintenance involving cutting into the submarine hull. This might only be possible in Japan for the Soryu? Maintenance realities may or may not be a problem.

If all these issues prove too hard over the next 5 years there are submarines operated by Germany,  France and Sweden (all of around 2,000+ tons surfaced) that may be adequate for what Australia needs. This is particularly under limitations in funds for purchase and crew availability problems.