The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 10/22/20
Two senior US Senators, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have introduced the Secure F-35 Exports Act, a bill designed to place additional Congressional oversight and control over the sale of the fifth-generation fighter jet. The bill would require that the Executive Office provide additional reports and certifications for sales of the F-35 to non-NATO countries that are not Israel, Australia, Japan, South Korea, or New Zealand; any potential risks posed by the sale; and certification that the sale does not represent a risk to “critical military and technological military advantage such aircraft provide to the United States Armed Services.” These reports and requirements not only cover the protection of US industrial and military knowledge from peer competitors or terrorist organizations, but also specifically ensure Israel’s qualitative military advantage. These requirements seem to be specifically targeted at the United Arab Emirates, where a potential sale of F-35s is being fast-tracked by the Trump Administration though high profiled groups in both Congress and Israel have raised concerns about the sale.
On October 20, it was announced that bids for the UK’s Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships must be led by British contractors with a significant portion of the build and assembly work carried out in the UK. Previously it had been stated that since the FSS fleet were not classed as warships they could be manufactured overseas, with Spanish firm Navantia bidding for the contract. In recent years, the UK’s auxiliary vessels have been produced overseas to ensure value for money and an open procurement process. For example, the UK’s four Tide Class tankers were built in South Korea by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering under a contract awarded in 2012. At the same time, it was mandated that the UK’s warships, such as the Type-31e and Type-26 frigates be manufactured in the UK. The UK Government has been under pressure in recent years to apply the same warship status to the FSS fleet to ensure that work was performed by British shipyards. This announcement in part makes that change, although the UK Ministry of Defense has been keen to stress that international participation is encouraged if this is a means to keep costs down. This opens the possibility that a large proportion of any build could still be performed by a non-UK contractor. Therefore, the Government is likely to remain under pressure from UK Trade Unions. The ships, that will supply the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier force, are being procured under a £1.5 billion ($2 billion) program.
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has inducted six new Embraer Super Tucano aircraft following months-long delays brought on by COVID-19. The Philippines ordered the aircraft in 2017 during the height of the Battle of Marawi, a five-month long armed struggle in the country’s south between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and militants aligned with ISIS. The Super Tucanos will serve in the PAF’s 15th Strike Wing alongside an existing fleet of aging Italian SF-260s and American OV-10s. At the induction ceremony, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzano also suggested that the Philippines might seek to acquire an additional batch of six Super Tucanos in the near future. Rumors of an additional acquisition have swirled for several months, and thus Lorenzano’s statement could indicate that a new contract award is imminent. Undoubtedly, supplemental Super Tucanos would augment the PAF’s counterinsurgency and close air support capabilities, an objective that as been front and center to the Department of National Defense since the 2017 campaign.
Airbus has unveiled a concept for a new jet trainer, the Airbus Flexible Jet Trainer (AJFT) that will be offered to the Spanish Air Force to replace its aging C-101 and F-5 aircraft by 2027-2028. The Spanish Air Force operates over 70 of the two aircraft. Should the AJFT be selected, 50-55 are expected to be acquired and will work in conjunction with the newly acquired PC-21 to train Spanish pilots before they transition to conversion trainer variants of frontline fighters. By 2030, basic and advanced training roles would be filled by these two aircraft rather than the current three (T-35, C-101, and F-5), which should lower operating costs and shrink the logistics footprint. It is worth noting that the AJFT will need to compete with the PC-21 as well, with Pilatus proposing that the PC-21 would fill both basic and lead-in training roles, which would further shrink operating costs and the logistic footprint compared to an AJFT acquisition.
Two years ago, Spain had been in discussions with South Korea to swap T-50 and KT-1 trainers for an A400M transport aircraft. However, this plan likely met opposition from Airbus and is for all intents and purposes dead. Development of the AJFT must also be seen as an economic stimulus program of sorts. With the onset of COVID-19 and the ensuing economic turmoil, development of a new trainer becomes much more attractive, as this can serve to support some additional high-tech jobs. While there are likely aspirations for exports, the AJFT will be entering a crowded advanced trainer market, with a wide range of aircraft on the market already.
On October 21, France signed a memorandum of understanding with Spain to provide 100 MISTRAL 3 missiles with associated equipment from the French inventory. The Mistral 3 is the latest generation of the surface-to-air Mistral missile series produced by MBDA. With an IR-seeker, this fire and forget missile has a range of 6km and can identify targets with low thermal signature. The estimated cost is €47.8 million ($55.9 million). MBDA is expected to “de-Frenchised” the equipment and then to upgrade and certify it as per Spanish standards before delivering it by 2022. The contract also includes a training system, dubbed ATPS, to virtually train soldiers at aiming, targeting, and shooting sequences.
This project is considered as an urgent requirement as current Mistral missile stocks in Spain, in service since 1992, are suffering from obsolescence issues. To complete this acquisition in a timely manner, the Spanish Ministry of Defense could be authorized to used FY2021 and FY2022 funds as the country military finances have been severely hit by the pandemic rescue plans.
On a broader scope, this project highlights how important it is to Spain to renew its weapon and missiles stocks in the coming years, but it also leaves wide open the question of French missiles stocks and how France will replenish its own. Similar to the Rafale deal with Greece, another batch of renovated Mistral 3 missile could be likely in the near term to ensure sufficient stocks in the French Army.
On October 16, the United States’ Department of State approved a potential sale of Naval Strike Missiles and Coastal Defense Systems to Romania. The sale includes two Coastal Defense Systems and an unspecified number of Naval Strike Missiles for a total cost of $300 million. The Coastal Defense Systems each are comprised of Link-16 Multifunctional Information Distribution System – Joint Tactical Radio Systems, fire distribution centers, and mobile launch vehicles, but the sale include training materials as well. The goal of the sale is to improve Romania’s maritime defense ability in the Black Sea, as well as its interoperability with the US and NATO. However, the sale has not yet been finalized and could still change before the contract is signed.