The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 10/1/20
The first major clues about how Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will approach defense spending emerged in the form of a new defense budget proposal that will once again be the largest in the nation’s history. The JPY 5.49 trillion budget ($52 billion) is 8.3% larger than FY2020 and continues the emphasis upon building up advanced capabilities against Japan’s major regional threats. Planned acquisitions during FY2021 will include four F-35As, two F-35Bs, reinforcement of the Kaga helicopter carrier for F-35 operations, and increased spending on cyber, EW, and space capabilities. Notably absent from the plan is Aegis Ashore spending, which was cancelled earlier this year.
It’s important to note that this budget is only a request and the approved budget may come in significantly lower. The last time the defense budget rose more than 2% was in 2014 and since then, it has grown by an average of 1%. According to the 2019-2023 Mid Term Defense Plan, Japan planned to spend JPY 25.5 trillion ($241.5 billion) over that period. Hitting this target would require an average growth rate of only about 1% per year. While going beyond this average rate is not impossible, it would be bureaucratically difficult. At the same time, this request is significantly larger in terms of budget growth rate than any recent requests in the past decade. Even a cut down approved budget could prove to be a more significant boost to Japanese defense spending than seen in previous years. Another key budgetary piece that observers will need to pay attention to are supplementary budgets, which in the past have added billions (in US dollars) to the defense budget. Whether the MoD will be able to get such large budgets, in both the base and supplementary budgets, in the wake of COVID-19’s economic fallout remains to be seen.
On September 28, the United States’ Department of State had approved a potential sale of RAM Block 2 tactical missiles to Japan. Specifically, the approved sale covers the procurement of up to 51 missiles with an anticipated value of $55.31 million. However, a delivery timeline was not specified in the announcement. The new missiles will be used to provide area defense capability for critical air and sea lanes in East Asia – likely with a focus on deterring any offensive actions from North Korea. Currently, the sale has yet to be finalized and could change before the contract is formally signed.
On September 29, the German Ministry of Defense (MoD) made a surprise decision to cut short its plan to replace its 71 aging CH-53G heavy lift helicopters, due to the high price of the replacement candidates, the CH-53K and CH-47F. The MoD planned to allocate $1.8 billion to procuring 45-60 replacements, with a contract award planned for 2021. The MoD will now have to go back to the drawing board and restructure the procurement program. Germany’s CH-53Gs are currently being overhauled, which will keep them in service until 2030.
The difficulty with Germany’s path forward is that there are few aircraft other than the CH-53K and CH-47F that can perform the heavy lift mission to the German military’s requirements. The only other true heavy lift helicopter that can is the Russian Mi-26, which would not be eligible for procurement for political reasons. The V-22 could offer Germany compelling capability that could support Germany’s role in the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, NATO’s rapid reaction force. But if cost if what brought down the CH-53K and CH-47F, the same issues will almost certainly exist for the V-22. Past plans in the early 2000s for the development of a European heavy lift helicopter did not go anywhere and are unlikely to be revived in the near future. The closest European options would be the NH90 or AW101 but selecting either of these aircraft would mean lower requirements, settling for less capability, and potentially adjust concept of operations. Regardless of what option German chooses, what is certain is that Germany is under significant financial strain, especially as COVID-19 economic effects continue to be felt across Europe. There are no “cheap” options and compromises in costs and/or capability look increasingly likely.
Last weekend, Swiss voters approved the purchase of future combat aircraft aimed at replacing both the aging Boeing F/A-18 Hornet and the Northrop F-5E Tiger. The Swiss Air Force is considering acquiring between 30 and 40 new fighter jets among the following contenders: Lockheed Martin F-35A, Dassault Aviation Rafale, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and Eurofighter Typhoon.
Based on the Swiss legal framework, any government spending initiative must be submitted to a vote from the population to back up the investments. Recent poll surveys predicted a larger win, by 60% at least, however, the tight result does not come as a surprise. As a matter of fact, in May 2014, Swiss voters rejected the acquisition of 22 JAS-39 Gripen E/F from Saab. This time, the Swiss Department of Defense has emphasized the debate on the importance of buying new aircraft to maintain country combat readiness, instead of focusing on the aircraft type.
With an approved budget of $6.5 billion, the Swiss government can now proceed to the selection phase after aircraft demos were demonstrated in 2019 and finalized offset requirements (at least 60% of the contract value).The Department of Defense will also need to make a final decision on the successor of the Rapier missile based on the future selected combat jet (a project that will be dealt separately).
On September 30, the Czech Republic selected Rafael’s Spyder SHORAD system to meet its air defense requirement. According to local press reports in Israel four batteries are to be procured under a deal worth approximately $430 million. A contract is expected to be signed in early 2021 with first deliveries taking place in 2023. The Spyder system provides two interceptor options with the Imaging Infra-Red Guided Python-5 and active-radar guided Derby missiles. It is also possible that the Derby-ER missile will be procured to provide increased range. This is the second time that the Czech Republic has procured air defense equipment from Israel in recent years, with eight ELM-2084 Iron Dome radars procured from IAI in December 2019.
The Philippine Navy has selected the weaponry that will accompany its two AW159 Lynx Wildcat anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters. The helicopters, which the Philippines acquired and commissioned in the spring of 2019, will be fitted with Spike NLOS air-to-surface missiles and Blue Shark lightweight torpedoes. The Spike missiles, manufactured by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, will enable the rotorcraft to engage hostile surface vessels beyond visual range up to 32 km while the Blue Shark torpedoes, manufactured by South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development, will support shallow and deep water operations against hostile submarines. Funding for both weapons systems is included in the initial PHP 5.4 billion ($111 million) price tag for the two rotorcraft. Philippine officials hope that the fully equipped AW159s will serve in tandem with the Navy’s recently acquired Jose Rizal-class frigate and further improve the nation’s developing ASW capabilities.