The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 2.22.19
Tension Escalates Between India and Pakistan
Shane Mason, Senior Market Analyst
On February 14, a suicide bomber killed 44 soldiers in the Indian state of Kashmir after ramming an explosive-laden vehicle into a police convoy. Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed), a terrorist group based in Pakistan, claimed responsibility. The attack was the deadliest in Kashmir in 30 years. Indian PM Narendra Modi, in the middle of campaigning for upcoming national elections, condemned Pakistan, and vowed that the perpetrators would “pay a heavy price.” Pakistan denied state involvement, and PM Imran Khan warned that his country would retaliate against any Indian military response.
PM Modi will likely feel pressure to respond with force. Following a 2016 attack against an Indian army base in Kashmir that left 19 soldiers dead, India launched a “surgical strike” using special forces against positions in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Analysts have identified likely military options against Pakistan—another cross-border special forces operation or a stand-off missile strike. New Delhi must be careful that an attack won’t trigger an escalation between the two nuclear armed countries. India has not yet been able to translate its conventional and resource advantage over Pakistan into a meaningful deterrent against continued cross-border attacks.
On February 19, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive – 4 (SPD-4), in which a newly formed Space Force will reside under the US Air Force. Discussion over how to create and integrate a space force as a sixth military service ramped up in 2018, with debates over whether Space Force should be a stand-alone department or be organized under the Air Force. In September 2018, information was leaked that the creation of a space force as its own department could cost up to $13 billion over five years, raising concerns from members of Congress over the substantial price tag. Under SPD-4, employees across all the services who support space programs and operations could find themselves eventually moved to work under Space Force; however, space programs that reside under the National Reconnaissance Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA are not expected to be integrated. It is unclear how much standing up Space Force under the Air Force will cost, but new estimates by acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan suggest it could be less than $5 billion.
On February 20, Lockheed Martin rebranded its F-16 offering to the Indian Air Force (IAF) as the F-21. Such a move is an attempt to emphasize the modern features of the upgraded F-16 being offered to India over most F-16s found around the world. It may also help to address long-standing Indian discomfort at the potential for operating a fighter that is strongly associated with the Pakistani Air Force. The F-21, formerly known as the F-16IN Super Viper, is a further upgrade of the F-16 Block 70. This is not the first time India has seen a re-branding of a variant of an older fighter. The MiG-35 that is also being offered to India by RAC MiG as a heavily upgraded MiG-29. Despite the long and labyrinthine acquisition process in India, and the risk of large defense acquisitions being used as a vehicle to score domestic political points, the potential $13 billion order of 110 fighters would be a huge win for any of the defense companies involved in the competition. For the IAF, 110 new fighters would constitute a much-needed replacement for aging MiGs, Jaguars, and Mirages currently in service. In 2019 alone, the IAF has lost a Jaguar, Mirage, and MiG-27 in crashes.
On February 18, Boeing and the US Navy received permission from the US Department of Defense to offer the E/A-18 Growler in addition to the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet to Finland as a contender for the Finnish HX fighter program. Finland is seeking to replace its aging fleet of F/A-18 C/D Hornet aircraft with new multi-role fighters – primarily for territorial defense and monitoring purposes. The Growlers would reduce the need for stealth capabilities by providing electronic attack support to disrupt enemy sensors. However, up until this point Australia was the only other government allowed to field them. Finland plans to phase out its current fleet by 2030, so it will decide on a new platform by 2021. In addition to the Super Hornet, the Finnish government is also considering the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Lockheed Martin F-35, and the Saab Gripen.
ThyssenKrupp has launched the RSS Invincible, the first of four Type 218SG submarines purchased by the Republic of Singapore between 2013 and 2017. The vessels, likely an enlarged and enhanced variant of ThyssenKrupp’s well-known Type 214, will provide a significant upgrade capability over Singapore’s existing Archer and Challenger-class submarines. As the Type 218SGs are about 50% larger than the legacy submarines, they will not only feature an extended endurance of up to a month, but also include an air-independent propulsion system that will limit or eliminate the amount of time the submarine must spend on the surface or snorkeling. The submarine will also feature eight torpedo tubes, which are likely 533mm (21in) tubes, but may maintain a few 400mm (16in) tubes similar to those on the Archer and Challenger-classes in order to leverage existing weapon stockpiles or capabilities. Singapore’s delivery of a next-generation submarine puts it alongside Indonesia as nations ahead of the curve in the region, as their initial 2013 purchase turned out to be one of the harbingers of a wave of submarine recapitalizations in the region. Thailand, Taiwan, and Australia have all placed orders for new submarines and other Southeast Asian nations will likely follow suit in order to ensure maritime security and counter increasing Chinese naval activities in the South China Sea.