The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 3.15.18
On March 8, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a potential foreign military sale of AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II missiles to UAE. If approved by Congress, the sale would cover 300 AIM-9X-2 missiles, as well as a number of training systems, guidance systems, support equipment, and spares for an estimated cost of $270.4 million. The goal of the sale is to enhance the ability of UAE to defend itself by improving the air defense capabilities of its air force.
On March 8, the Pentagon awarded Orbital ATK with a $86.4 million contract to supply armed, AC-208 Eliminator ISR aircraft to the Afghan Air Force (AAF). The number of aircraft was not specified, but previous reports suggested that the total could be as high as seven planes. Under a “pseudo Foreign Military Sales” contract—in which Washington funds the deal rather than the customer—work will be performed at Orbital’s Fort Worth facility. The first aircraft is expected to be delivered by June 2019. This will be the second armed AC-208 in the AAF’s inventory, but the first Block 2 variant, doubling the weapons load. Designed primarily for counterinsurgency operations, the aircraft will serve U.S. interests by increasing the capacity of the AAF without giving it power-projection capabilities that Pakistan would interpret as a threat to its security.
On March 9, the Swiss government announced that voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on whether the country should buy new fighter jets, with the vote expected to take place no later than 2020. This is the third time the country has put the acquisition of fighter jets to vote since 1993. While Swiss citizens will have the ability to decide whether the country should buy new fighters, they will not have the option to determine the type of fighter. Switzerland is considering Airbus’s Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin’s F-35, Boeing’s Super Hornet, Saab’s Gripen, and Dassault’s Rafale. The last vote regarding the purchase of fighter jets took place in 2014, when voters turned down the acquisition of 22 Gripens worth $3.2 billion, due to concerns that that the lifetime cost of the aircraft would reach $10.5 billion. The Swiss government announced in November 2017 that it would not spend more than $8 billion to replace its fleet of aging F/A-18s. Switzerland is anticipating first deliveries of a new fighter to take place starting in 2025, with the fleet becoming fully operational by 2030.
On March 9, BAE Systems announced that a memorandum of intent (MOI) was signed between the UK and Saudi Arabia for the procurement of an additional 48 Typhoon aircraft. The deal will be a follow-on order to the 2007 contract, which saw 72 Typhoon aircraft procured, and will take the total number of aircraft in the fleet to 120. The UK has been pursuing a second order of Typhoon aircraft from Saudi Arabia for many years, and while this MOI is a sign that efforts have regained momentum, the deal cannot be guaranteed until it is signed.
On March 13, South Korea announced a contract with German-Swedish arms manufacturer Taurus Systems GmbH for the acquisition of 90 additional Taurus long-range air-to-ground missiles. The acquisition is a follow-on order to a 2013 purchase of 170 of the bunker busting missiles. South Korea first expressed interest in the additional 90 missiles in October 2016, following North Korea’s fifth nuclear weapon test. The missiles are expected to augment the ability of South Korea’s F-15Ks to strike key facilities and bunkers within North Korea. The cost of the missiles is estimated to exceed $160 million.
Reports surfaced on March 14 that Rheinmetall had been selected as the tenderer for the LAND 400 Phase 2 project, which will produce 211 combat reconnaissance vehicles for the Australian Army, and includes a transfer technology program. The first 25 vehicles will be built in Germany, where Australians will work with German teams to gain necessary skills before returning to Australia to build the remaining vehicles. This follows a fierce competition between the Australian states of Queensland and Victoria, which supported Rheinmetall and BAE Systems respectively, in the LAND 400 Phase 2 contest. The contract would mean up to $4 billion and many jobs flowing into the winning state. There were concerns in Victoria earlier last December that the government was leaning towards selecting Queensland in a bid to save Parliament seats. These concerns were particularly marked when Victorian MP Darren Chester was removed from the Federal Cabinet in a Cabinet reshuffle. He was replaced by MP Barnaby Joyce, who was a Queensland senator for nearly ten years. Rheinmetall is now well positioned to win LAND 400 Phase 3, which will produce 450 tracked IFVs to replace the M113 in a program that could be worth over $7 billion. Queensland is also in the process of delivering more than 2500 logistics vehicles through project LAND 121 Phase 3B.
On March 14, Airbus announced that a contract for 28 NH-90 helicopters was signed with Qatar during the DIMDEX exhibition. The contract, reported to be worth $3.7 billion, covers the procurement of 16 tactical transport NH90 TTH helicopters and 12 NH90 NFH maritime platforms. Assembly of the TTH aircraft will be conducted by Airbus in France, while the maritime helicopters will be assembled and delivered by Leonardo from its facility in Venice, Italy. The contract comes four years after Qatar signed an agreement with Airbus at DIMDEX 2014 to buy 22 aircraft. While it has taken time for the agreement to come to fruition, an additional six platforms have been added to the sale. According to Airbus, the total order book for the NH90 now stands at 543 aircraft, with 350 having been delivered.
It was also announced at DIMDEX 2018 that Kongsberg was selected to provide its unmanned Medium Calibre Turret and Protector Remotely Operated Weapon System for the 490 VBCI vehicles being produced by Nexter. Kongsberg stated that its work on Qatar’s VBCI program is expected to be worth $1.94 billion over eight years. Partnering with Barzan Holdings, Kongsberg has established a new company in Qatar called BK Systems, which will be responsible for the delivery of the systems while also focusing on technology development in both the defense and maritime domains.