The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 3.1.18
On February 22, the Canadian Ministry of National Defense released a list of prospective bidders approved for the country’s fighter jet competition. Boeing’s name appeared on the list, though Boeing has yet to decide whether it will bid on the contract. Other approved suppliers include Lockheed Martin, Saab, Airbus, and Dassault. Despite the urgency to replace the current fleet of CF-18s, Canada’s fighter competition continues to struggle with an indecisive government that has halted and restarted the competition in the last three years. In 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau publicly stated that Canada would not purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as planned under the former conservative administration, deeming the aircraft to be too costly. Following this, Canada decided to move forward with an interim purchase of fighters in December 2016, announcing Boeing’s Super Hornets as its preferred choice. However, this was later scrapped after a trade dispute between Boeing and Bombardier took center stage in 2017. The country’s Ministry of National Defence is now moving forward with the interim procurement of 18 secondhand F/A-18s from Australia, but the aircraft will need to undergo service life extensions to keep flying. Canada’s fleet of CF-18s are expected to retire around 2025. The sluggish pace of the fighter competition is likely to leave the Royal Canadian Air Force with a capability gap if the government cannot make a decision to acquire a new fighter fleet by 2021.
On February 23, India cancelled its $12.2 billion competition for 114 single-engine fighter aircraft. The decision comes two years after the competition opened in 2016. A Ministry of Defence official explained that the competition “placed an unnecessary restriction on only single-engine fighters, which limited the competition to just two jets”—Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 and Saab’s Gripen. New Delhi will widen the competition to include single and twin-engine fighters. Avascent Analytics estimates the contract for the new competition will be awarded no sooner than 2023.
It is likely that the decision was driven by domestic political considerations. In recent months, the government and opposition Congress party have sparred over the 2016 deal to procure 36 Rafale fighters worth an estimated $8.9 billion. The Congress Party alleges that the India’s People Party (BJP)-led government overpaid Dassault for the aircraft and failed to follow procurement procedures. The government claims that the Congress Party dragged its feet on fighter procurement when in power from 2004-2014, creating the fighter shortages the BJP seeks to remedy.
Already accused of mismanaging the Rafale negotiations, the government’s decision to widen the fighter competition to include twin-engine options preempts the charge that it’s repeating past mistakes. The decision also comes a year before the country’s general elections in May 2019. While the election remains Prime Minister Modi’s to lose, the government’s position is not as strong as it once was. While cancelling the competition may make political sense, the requirement for over 100 fighter aircraft remains unaddressed.
On February 26, South Africa ordered three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) from Damen Shipyards Cape Town as part of Project Biro. Project Biro is the name given to the planned purchase of three IPVs and three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) which are meant to improve South Africa’s maritime security. The six ships that Project Biro will provide will replace various patrol vessels which South Africa procured in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the project has been delayed for several years due to budgetary issues. In the original plan for Project Biro, all six ships would have been delivered by 2018, but under the recent announcement the three IPVs will be delivered by 2024, with no word yet on the OPVs.
The Chief of the Malaysian Navy (TLDM), Admiral Badaruddin confirmed that the Navy plans to procure a new submarine between 2031 and 2035, and a second between 2036 and 2040. This would make the TLDM’s current pair of Scorpene-class submarines between 20 and 30 years old by the time they are retired. Malaysia is undergoing an extensive and gradual program to reduce the number of ship classes in its Navy from 15 to five. Southeast Asia is amid a heightened submarine procurement period. Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand have a combined nine submarines on order or under construction. Indonesia and the Philippines have plans to introduce at least five submarines within the next ten years. When Malaysia acquires its new submarines, it will face an environment with much more advanced undersea capabilities than what is seen in Southeast Asia today. While the submarine acquisition may still be well in the future, it will almost certainly face intense public scrutiny after the $1.2 billion Scorpene acquisition was mired in a corruption scandal.