The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 2.28.19

 In Weekly Wire
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India Launches an Attack Against Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan

Shane Mason, Senior Market Analyst

On February 27, Pakistan fired on Indian military installations and shot down a MiG-21 Bison, capturing its pilot. New Delhi claims that an Indian MiG-21 shot down a two-seat Pakistani F-16 during the exchange, although Pakistan denies this. The events came one day after Indian Mirage-2000s destroyed an alleged terrorist training camp inside Pakistan. India’s air strike followed a February 14 suicide bombing by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based terrorist group that killed 44 Indian soldiers in the disputed Kashmir region. At the time of this publication, only a few details have been officially confirmed and events are unfolding at a dizzying clip.

According to media reports, over a dozen fighter aircraft, mid-air tankers, and AWACS participated in the initial Indian raid on Tuesday, February 26. Five Mirage 2000s reportedly delivered the ordnance, Israeli Spice 2000 precision guided bombs, after crossing into Pakistani territory. Su-30 MKIs, built under license by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. and the IAF’s frontline fighter, also took part, but in a secondary role. At least one Embraer 145 AWAC was observed patrolling the India-Pakistan border in the hours immediately following the air strike, while a Boeing C-17 and Russian-built AN-32 mobility aircraft reportedly ferried troops into Indian-administered Kashmir in anticipation of a Pakistani military response.

The exchange marks the first time that one nuclear-armed state has used air power against the territory of another and represents the most dangerous military escalation in the region in over fifty years. Since the 1971 India-Pakistan War, both countries had refrained from the use of force across each other’s agreed international borders, limiting hostilities to the disputed parts of Kashmir. Likewise, New Delhi had largely shown restraint in the past after large-scale terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan. Indian forbearance can no longer be taken for granted after this week. Despite tensions, it appears as though some off-ramps to the crisis may be emerging. Pakistan, for instance, has publicly committed to releasing the captured Indian pilot on March 1 as a gesture of goodwill. While this will be welcomed by New Delhi, it’s not clear it will be enough for leaders in New Delhi to save face. Domestic political pressure to punish Pakistan has intensified after the terrorist attack in Kashmir, and the atmosphere is particularly charged during in the run-up to national elections this spring.

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Australia

The Avalon 2019 Australian International Aerospace and Defence Exposition is in full swing. Announcements have demonstrated Australian industry partnerships with foreign firms, as well as the Australian Department of Defence’s (DoD) expanding relationships with Australian subsidiaries of foreign firms. Some of these announcements include:

  • Boeing Defence Australia unveiled its Airpower Teaming System, an unmanned wingman. The aircraft was developed in Australia in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). A prototype is expected to have its first flight in 2020. Its primary missions will be electronic warfare and reconnaissance in heavily defended areas, though there is a ventral payload bay that could potentially carry weapons. In addition to Boeing’s internal investment funding, the Australian government will contribute A$40 million (US$ 28.75 million) towards further development. Though other Five Eyes countries (which include New Zealand, Canada, the UK, and the US) have expressed interest in the aircraft, it is unclear at this time if they have contributed development funding. Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has touted this as the “first aircraft concept that Australia has invested in since the Boomerang in 1942-45.” A better characterization may be that this is the first domestically developed Australian combat aircraft since the Boomerang.
  • The Australian Department of Defence’s Defense Science and Technology Group and Northrop Grumman Australia announced an expanded strategic alliance to support research into the key areas of space, autonomous systems, and cyber security.
  • The DoD signed a contract with Lockheed Martin Corporation and Lockheed Martin Australia that establishes intellectual property, technical data, and software arrangements. This lays the groundwork for Australia to provide extensive sustainment services for F-35’s operating in the region.
  • TAE Aerospace announced the construction of an Engine Test Cell upgrade facility at RAAF Base Amberly, which will allow for testing of the F-35’s F135 engine. TAE Aerospace has also completed acquisitions in the US to become the largest maintenance provider of TPE331 turboprop engines, which can be found on aircraft such as the MQ-9, C-212, and HAL HTT-40.
  • Australian-based EOS has developed a remote weapons turret in partnership with Elbit Systems.

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US

US Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy announced that the upcoming overhaul of Army budget priorities will be larger than expected, reaching $31 billion over the next five years. The move comes as part of the Army’s focus on recapitalizing and rejuvenating its forces by reallocating funding from existing programs toward its Big 6 priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next Generation Combat Vehicles (NGCV), Future Vertical Lift, Army Network, Air and Missile Defense Capabilities, and Soldier Lethality. This $31 billion, $6 billion more than originally projected, will come through significant reductions and cancellations to over 186 different legacy Army programs. While cynics may say this number is likely inflated through targeting non-core Army programs, a great deal of the actual funding will still come from core legacy Army programs such as the Bradley Improvement Programs, which saw its 3rd Generation FLIR upgrade program cancelled in order to fund the Mobile Protected Firepower and NGCV priorities. The Army has justified the reorganization of nearly a full budget years’ worth of RDT&E and Procurement funding as necessary to ensure the Army stays ahead of rapidly modernizing Russian and Chinese forces who are expected to have modernization peaks in 2028 and 2030 respectively.

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Turkey

On February 22nd, Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defence Industries signed a contract with Turkish Aerospace Industries to begin developing a new class of heavy helicopter, potentially called the T130. The value and timeline for the project were not disclosed, but media reports indicate that a prototype is expected to be in the air sometime in the next five years. The requirements for the new rotorcraft include over 440lbs of cargo capacity, high forward speed, advanced electronic warfare capabilities, and a range of munitions, comprising anti-air, anti-tank, and rocket systems. The new rotorcraft, called the Heavy-class Attack Helicopter, is part of a larger effort by Turkey to stimulate its indigenous defense industry – partially out of a desire to reduce supply chain risk and partially to ensure the freedom to export any platforms it develops without needing approval from foreign governments. As such, the stated goal for the new rotorcraft is to ensure that it is completely designed and produced using Turkish firms.

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Sweden

Sweden has called on Russia’s Ambassador to discuss a Swedish surveillance plane’s close encounter with a Russian Su-27 fighter over the Baltic Sea. The incident took place over international air space during what Sweden claims was a routine surveillance mission. The Su-27 came within 20 meters of the surveillance aircraft, with Swedish Defense Ministry Peter Hultqvist describing the Su-27’s maneuvers as “unnecessary, provocative, and very dangerous.” Russia’s state-owned news agency Sputnik claims the fighter aircraft was deployed to “identify and intercept” an aircraft that was encroaching on Russia’s air space. There has been increased tension between Scandinavian countries and Russia, with Russia recently carrying out a mock fighter aircraft attack towards Norway, pulling back just before the fighter jets entered Norwegian airspace. Relations between Sweden and Russia have dipped to an all-time low following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since 2014, Sweden has reintroduced conscription, bulked up its military presence on the strategic Gotland Island in the Baltic Sea, and is increasingly modernizing its defense equipment.

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