The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 4.5.19
From March 26-30, the 2019 Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA `19) was held in Langkawi, Malaysia. Several important developments were announced during the exhibition:
- The playing field for Malaysia’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is getting crowded with the following aircraft in contention: Gripen, Yak-130, M-346, FA-50, JF-17, L-15, Tejas. The LCA competition has come as a result of the shelving of the more expensive Multirole Combat Aircraft program that was to replace the MiG-29. There are questions regarding whether Malaysia will be able to afford both programs as budgetary pressures suggest that progressing on one could delay the other.
- Production of Naval Strike Missiles (NSM) for the Royal Malaysian Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships has begun. Malaysia signed a contract for NSM in April 2018.
- An expected contract for VL MICA missiles to equip the six Littoral Combat Ships was not signed, likely due in part to a proposed EU boycott on palm oil. Palm oil is a major Malaysian export but has attracted controversy for what environmental activists have characterized as widespread deforestation and labor abuses in the lucrative industry. Prime Minister Mahathir has labeled the deal as a protectionist move on Europe’s part and mentioned the possibility of buying non-European weapons, such as the JF-17.
- A letter of acceptance for the overhaul of the MB-339 trainer’s Viper turbojet engines was signed with Serbian firm Globec Ltd Serbia.
- The Royal Malaysian Navy is interested in acquiring up to 18 fast interceptor craft (FIC). These will likely replace Navy’s Swedish-made CB90s, 17 of which were delivered in the late 1990s. The CB90s and their eventual successors operate extensively in the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) in Eastern Malaysia. ESSCOM was established in 2013 to address extensive pirate and terrorist activity in the region. Several local Malaysian firms are reportedly developing solutions for this program. Deliveries of the new FIC’s are planned between 2020-2025.
Germany’s Bundestag’s Budget Committee approved the sale of six Meko-200 frigates by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) to the Egyptian Navy worth $2.5 billion (EUR 2.3 billion). A deal was first signed in November 2018 between Egypt and Germany, but Germany’s Budget Committee approved “an export credit guarantee… in order to secure the financial aspect of the deal.” ThyssenKrupp was competing against France’s Naval Group for the Egyptian frigate bid, in which Naval Group was offering its Gowind 2500 corvettes. Egypt has been a previous customer of Naval Group after acquiring a FREMM frigate and four Gowind-class corvettes from the naval firm. Egypt’s decision to go with TKMS is a blow to Naval Group, which also lost a bid to the rival German firm for Brazil’s Tamandare-class competition last week.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) approved a potential $600 million Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to sell four MQ-9B Sky Guardians to Belgium. The sale would include four MQ-9Bs installed with AN/DAS-4 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems and AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radars. The deal includes Initial Spares and Readiness Spares Packages for the first five years of operation and well as the traditional training, spares, and contractor support services common to FMS deals. The FMS deal represents the maximum value of the contract in order to avoid reauthorization if an additional option needs to be added or excised.
The MQ-9Bs sale would not only equip Belgium with a significant upgrade in airborne ISR capability but would also represent a notable win for General Atomics. General Atomics developed the Sky Guardian variant of the MQ-9B as a Reaper variant that could be operated by European customers without concern for the most recent airworthiness requirements within European airspace. With a successful sale, General Atomics will retain a foothold in European MALE remotely piloted aircraft systems markets at a time when customers will be confronting make or buy decisions around European MALE development.
On April 1, the United States stopped the transfer of F-35 equipment to Turkey. The transfers were cancelled because Turkey has moved ahead with plans to acquire the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. The stoppage is due to fears that allowing Turkey to have both systems would allow Russia to build an electronic profile of the F-35, making it more vulnerable to their air defense systems. Currently, any resumption of the transfers is contingent on Turkey canceling its S-400 system order. The Turkish government has affirmed its commitment to keeping the S-400, which has caused some elements of the US defense establishment to propose a ban on all American military aircraft sales to Turkey. Additionally, according to some reports, the Department of Defense is also beginning to search for alternate suppliers of the F-35 parts that are built in Turkey. It is unclear to what extent dropping Turkey from the list of F-35 customers would have on the program overall, both in terms of costs and delivery schedules. Turkey’s S-400 system is expected to be delivered in July.
On March 27, India conducted an anti-satellite missile test, becoming the fourth country—after the United States, Russia, and China—to do so. India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) oversaw the operation in which a Microsat-R satellite in low-earth orbit was destroyed with a three-stage, solid-fueled missile. An American media report, citing unnamed US intelligence sources, suggests that India attempted and failed a similar test in early February. Framed as an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) test, it also has implications for India’s missile defense program. The test has similar characteristics to a missile defense test, while DRDO even claimed that it used a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) missile to intercept the satellite. The move is a clear signal to both Pakistan and China that India intends to further its missile defense ambitions.