By Avascent Analytics team
A quick look at the biggest stories of the week
Brazil • France • Japan • Russia
Avascent Analytics introduced a segment to the Weekly Wire called “Beyond the Headlines.” Each week, we will provide an in-depth look on various defense topics, ranging from country-specific defense news to emerging technologies impacting defense.
Defense Industry Anxious as No-Deal Brexit Looms
Ben Goodlad, Analysis Manager
On January 15, the UK Parliament voted, by 432 votes to 202, not to support the withdrawal agreement negotiated between the British government and European Union, creating fresh uncertainty for European defense suppliers. However, additional uncertainty was avoided the following day when the government survived a vote of no-confidence, side-stepping the need for a general election and potential change of government and policy. Even with the current government remaining in power, there is still no clear path forward as the Brexit deadline draws ever closer.
With the UK due to leave the EU on March 29, it is unclear what position the UK will find itself in when this date arrives. A worst-case scenario for defense suppliers would be that the UK and EU remain unable to reach an agreement whilst at the same time not providing an extension to the deadline. This would create a “no-deal” Brexit situation which would have serious ramifications for imports and exports, the status of workers, and security co-operation. For European defense suppliers, this would create supply chain and personnel issues whilst also likely to have an impact on future defense spending, with the EU also having to make up a shortfall of £39 billion ($50 billion) that the UK would have committed to its future short-term budget. Furthermore, a “no-deal” withdrawal would impact the UK’s defense relationships, such as its agreement with France, which are predominantly bilateral.
A second possible situation would be that the UK’s withdrawal is delayed beyond March 29 to allow for a suitable deal to be negotiated. This, however, would require agreement not only from the UK but also from the other 27 remaining EU member states. A third scenario is that a second referendum is called, putting the decision back in the hands of the British public. The exact nature of this referendum is unclear, but it is being seen by some as an opportunity to cancel the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. As a result, the UK would continue to have access to European defense initiatives and programs such as Galileo and PESCO.
Croatia Cancels F-16 Procurement from Israel
Hamilton Cook, Research Associate
Croatia has officially cancelled its procurement of 12 F-16C/Ds from Israel. The deal, valued at $500 million, was blocked by the U.S. State Department which did not grant third-party transfer approval for the sale. While to outside observers this may seem odd, the situation is shaped by the nature of the US-Israeli defense relationship. As Washington provides Israel with a substantial portion of its military equipment through military aid packages and financing in order to maintain Israel’s qualitative military advantage, it can veto potential third-party sales of such U.S.-financed equipment. The State Department had two major considerations. First, the Israeli government would have reaped substantial profits from essentially selling a gift. Next, American industrial interests would have been harmed by losing the sale (F-16Vs were one of the tendered offers), and denying American firms access to the maintenance and sustainment supply chain.
This leaves Croatia in a bind as they face an imminent need to replace their aging MiG-21 fleet by 2021. Moreover, the country was relying on this program to increase its defense spending toward NATO’s goal of 2 percent of GDP. While it is possible that Croatia may choose to restart a new competition, it may prove more efficient to rely upon the outstanding tenders from the existing competition. Of the three remaining bids, reports have indicated that the US offer of F-16V is significantly outside Croatia’s price target and Greece’s offer of F-16 Block 30s relies upon significantly older technology. Thus, the likely winner would be the other finalist in the original competition: new-build JAS39 Gripens from Saab. Such a decision would avoid potential State Department obstacles not only because it is a non-US platform, but also because the Gripen features a significant amount of US-built and officially licensed equipment, weapons, and technology.
On January 14, the Brazilian Army signed a contract with Saab for RBS 70 New Generation (NG) man-portable air defense systems. The value of the deal has not been confirmed, nor has the number of units. However, Avascent estimates the contract will be worth $15 million for 12 systems. The Army already fields 25 RBS 70 Mk 2 systems, the first batch of which was procured before the 2014 World Cup. The RBS 70 NG has night-vision capabilities and an improved sight unit.
The deal is one of the first signed by Brazil under the leadership of Jair Bolsonaro, a former Army artillery officer, who was sworn-in as president on January 1. It also comes as ties with Venezuela have reached a new low. Political repression and economic chaos in Venezuela have created a refugee crisis in South America, particularly in Colombia and Brazil, leading a group of countries in the region to question the legitimacy of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s new government. In response, Maduro has redoubled efforts to court Vladimir Putin, who in turn temporarily deployed two Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers to Caracas.
Dassault has announced it has officially begun work on the F4-standard Rafale upgrade. Worth an estimated $2.3 billion, the program will include improvements across almost the entire aircraft, which will begin entering the fleet around 2024. The new communication system will include networked SATCOM, a communications backbone/server, and software-defined radio that will likely leverage developments in both the CONTACT radio and Future Combat Air System programs. Sensor upgrades will feature overhauls of its RBE2 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, OSF infrared search and track (ISRT), and the TALIOS Targeting Pod while the Raflae’s SPECTRA electronic warfare (EW) system will also be upgraded.
The F4 Rafale will also integrate SCALP cruise missiles, a 1,000 kg variant of the AASM precision-guided munition (PGM), and modernized version of the ASMP-A nuclear missile. The upgrade features an improved helmet-mounted display (HMD), a new engine control computer, and an integrated Prognosis and Diagnostic Aid System for predictive maintenance. The F4-standard follows the previous F2 and F3 variants which primarily focused upon adding air-to-ground capabilities and integrating new weapons. It was also announced that France would order an additional 30 F4 Rafales, which would sustain the production line from 2027 to 2030.
According to the Japanese press, Tokyo has confirmed plans to develop electronic attack aircraft based on the domestically developed C-2 transport and possibly the P-1 maritime patrol aircraft. The Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) currently operates one C-1 and four YS-11EB aircraft for electronic warfare. But not only are these aircraft quite old, they have mainly been designed for training and passive electronic intelligence (ELINT). The JASDF does not have deep experience with airborne electronic attack. The new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) released in December 2018 highlight electronic warfare as an area in which Japan must enhance its capabilities. Efforts have already begun as an ELINT variant of the C-2, with significant airframe modifications, was spotted in early February 2018. Japan hopes to have its electronic attack aircraft deployed by 2027. Previous reports suggested that the EA-18G Growler might be a contender to provide Japan with electronic attack capabilities. But an April 2018 request for information from the Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency (ATLA) called for a stand-off jammer which could engage targets at longer ranges, suggesting a larger aircraft.
The Russian government has announced the first contract for the Su-57 fighter aircraft under its revised production schedule. The contract stipulates that the second batch of Su-57s will comprise 13 aircraft and will be produced over at least a five-year period. The Su-57, Russia’s newest air superiority fighter, has been envisaged as a hunter-killer aircraft optimized to detect stealth fighters favored by future Western and Chinese-backed forces. Due to technical challenges and economic pressure, the Su-57 production program was deprioritized last summer. The revised program has now entered the Developmental Test & Evaluation stage compared to previous Russian plans for this stage of production to resemble a Low Rate of Initial Production. This fits a pattern for many fifth-generation programs to take significantly longer and require much more additional funding than planned.
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