The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 12.14.17
Indian press reports that India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is considering a stop-gap measure to procure 24 naval multirole helicopters worth $1.87 billion, but the MoD’s new strategic partnership model may make such a move difficult. The Indian Navy is facing a shortage of helicopters after price negotiations for 16 Sikorsky S-70B helicopters ended in April 2017, despite being initially selected in 2011. Absent an expedited procurement, the service may experience a 40% drop in operational maritime helicopters by the early 2020s. Released in May, the new approach requires private Indian firms to partner with a foreign original equipment manufacturer for big-ticket platforms. The move is meant to encourage the private sector to participate in the defense industry, long dominated in India by public sector undertaking favored by the government. However, India’s private sector has little experience in the defense industry, raising questions about whether platforms built under this model will be delivered on time or meet MoD requirements.
On December 8, the Japanese Ministry of Defense requested additional funding in the 2018 budget related to the introduction of air-launched cruise missiles that will greatly extend Japan’s strike ability. About $20 million was requested to buy Joint Strike Missiles (JSM), which can strike ground targets 500km away if launched from an aircraft. A smaller sum of under $300,000 is being requested to begin research on modifications of Japan’s legacy fighters to carry JASSM-ER and LRASM. Japanese lawmakers began pushing for the acquisition of such capabilities in March after North Korea fired missiles that landed in Japanese waters. Although this will be a politically controversial step for Japan, public opinion and legislative support have been gradually growing for the ability to strike land-based targets from afar in light of recent North Korean missile launches. While $20 million will not buy many JSMs, supplementary budgets may be a way to purchase additional missiles. In 2016, Japan’s third supplementary budget included about $1.6 billion in extra funding that supported ballistic missile defenses, P-1 maritime patrol aircraft, and several other aircraft programs.
L3 Communications was awarded two US Air Force (USAF) support contracts in December by the Department of Defense, most recently a $79.3 million contract on December 8 to support the USAF’s T-1A Jayhawk jet trainers, in which L3 will provide maintenance on the USAF’s fleet of 178 jet trainers on USAF bases in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Florida, with a completion date of June 7, 2018. This follows a modified $10.2 million contract awarded on December 6 to provide logistics support on the T-1A, which are used for advanced training of USAF student pilots who will fly mobility or tanker aircraft. The T-1A was first acquired by the USAF in 1992, and have been in service since 1993. The Air Force will continue to operate the aging T-1As until 2050, with maintenance costing approximately $400 million per year to sustain.
On December 11, the German Defense Ministry announced that the Eurofighter is the German government’s first choice to replace its aging Tornado jets. The Tornadoes, which have been in use since 1979, are scheduled to retire from 2025-2030. However, the German Air Force stated in November that it would prefer to purchase the F-35. Despite this, there is a strong political incentive for the German government to select the Eurofighter. The French firm Airbus is part of the consortium that builds the Eurofighter, and Germany has stated that it would like to cooperate more closely with France on defense issues. Investing in the Eurofighter would also help keep the production line running and could potentially lower training and maintenance costs given that Germany currently possesses the Eurofighter in its inventory.
On December 12, Canada confirmed that it will procure 18 surplus Boeing F/A-18 A/B aircraft and spare parts from Australia for approximately $500 million, with the aircraft entering service with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 2019. The interim purchase will provide a stop-gap measure for the RCAF, as Canada continues to search for a new fighter fleet to replace the RCAF’s aging CF-18s. Canada is looking to acquire a total of 88 next-generation fighter aircraft, with the first fighter to enter service in 2025. A request for proposal for the new aircraft will be issued in 2019, with a contract award date in 2022. Canadian officials estimate that the full fighter competition could cost between $11.5-14.6 billion (USD).
On December 11, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, clarifying his administration’s space policy by formally directing NASA to prioritize the moon as a first step toward future deep space exploration. The Directive was part of an October recommendation made by the National Space Council, which was newly formed by the administration in June 2017 after its disbandment in 1993. While the Directive has offered no hard timelines or costs yet, NASA stated later that day that work on the initiative will be reflected in the agency’s FY19 budget proposal.
No humans have traveled past low earth orbit since 1972, but there are plans in the works at NASA for a “Deep Space Gateway” (DSG): a crew-tended cislunar space station set for construction in the 2020s and intended as a staging point for future destinations such as Mars. Avascent Analytics has projected that if DSG is approved, both the first and second DSG modules will launch in 2023: the former will be used to provide electricity and ion propulsion for the station, while the latter will provide habitation. However, Space Policy Directive 1 could move that timeline forward, particularly if the Trump administration is willing to increase NASA’s budget for the initiative in FY19.