The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 3.22.18
On March 15, NATO released its annual report focusing on steps the alliance is taking to increase defense spending and invest in new capabilities in addition to its continued commitment to deter Russian aggression. According to the report, NATO as a whole increased defense spending in 2017 by 5%, with Latvia and Lithuania expected to reach the 2% threshold in 2018. Despite these improvements, 26 members still fall short of the 2% goal, with 16 members currently spending less than 1.5% on defense. In 2017, Romania became the sixth country to spend 2% of its GDP on defense, joining the US, Greece, Poland, the UK, and Estonia. These increases stem from the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales, during which the alliance agreed to forge a path for members to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024.
On March 16, the Inspector General of the Indonesian Ministry of Defense, Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, confirmed that Indonesia ordered unmanned aerial systems (UAS) from China. The Marshal stated that fewer usage restrictions and the technology China was willing to export were key factors in the final decision. There are conflicting reports of which UAS was acquired, with initial information pointing to the Wing Loong-I (Pterodactyl-I), and a more recent Indonesian report referring to the acquisition of the CH-4. Indonesia needs a long endurance UAS that can patrol its vast waters and monitor the immense volume of ship traffic that traverses its territory. While Indonesia is already working on developing its own long endurance UAS, these will not be ready for service until the mid-2020’s at the earliest, necessitating this recent UAS order from China. Both the Wing Loong-I and CH-4 are significantly cheaper than the MQ-9, it’s American analogue. Estimates price the Chinese UAS at about $4-5 million per aircraft, while the MQ-9 costs around $20 million per aircraft.
On March 17, industry press reported that South Korea may buy more Apache AH-64E heavy-attack helicopters. A request for proposal could be issued as early as the end of March for up to 40 new helicopters, worth an estimated $1.7 billion. The requirement reflects a doctrinal shift in South Korea’s military planning for a contingency with North Korea. Previously reliant on a defensive, tank-based posture, Seoul is now planning on using air power to penetrate North Korea’s air defense networks and create a breach for South Korean troops early in a conflict. Plans to buy 300 additional K2 Black Panther main battle tanks may be canceled to create budget space for the new Apache buy, although this would face resistance from Hyundai Rotem, the South Korean manufacturer that makes the K2. South Korea currently fields a fleet of 36 Apache AH-64Es, procured in 2013 for $1.6 billion.
On March 19, Spanish news sources reported that Minister of Defense María Dolores de Cospedal will showcase her fifteen-year armament investment plan to the Council of Ministers over the next few weeks. The investment plan focuses on seven acquisition and modernization programs for the Spanish Armed Forces totaling more than $13 billion. Over the next fifteen years, Spain is looking to acquire 8×8 wheeled combat vehicles, F-110 frigates, training aircraft, multinational multi-role tanker transport aircraft, and NH90 helicopters while modernizing its air command-and-control system and Chinook helicopters. The fifteen-year investment plan ultimately needs to be approved by the Council of Ministers before moving forward. Despite embarking on a new investment plan, Spain still owes $24 billion from its last armaments investment plan, which included the acquisition of A400M transport aircraft, Eurofighter Typhoons, S-80 submarines, and Tiger combat helicopters. The Spanish government plans to continue paying off the debt until 2030.
On March 19, it was reported that the United States may offer Taiwan the opportunity to lease an unknown number of F-15C fighter aircraft. Taiwan has repeatedly expressed interest in acquiring the F-35B, but that would be seen as excessively provocative towards China. However, the F-15C would provide Taiwan with enhanced capabilities for defending its airspace without causing undue instability in the region. At the same time, Taiwan’s F-CK-1 fighters to be modernized and it is considering acquiring KC-135 tankers as well.