The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 5/8/20
On May 1, the Australian government ordered six Cape-class patrol boats for A$350 million ($224.6 million). The purchase comes somewhat unexpectedly, as Australia did not have prior plans to buy patrol boats so soon. The Australian Border Force already operates eight Cape-class boats. The Australian Navy operates two Cape-class patrol boats on lease, and operates 13 Armidale-class patrol boats, which are of similar size. The Armidale-class boats were commissioned between 2005 and 2008 and are being replaced by 12 Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels. The Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels are much larger than the Armidale-class boats they are succeeding, meaning that the additional Cape-class boats could fill a niche left behind by the smaller Armidales, as they can deploy at a lower operating cost than the Arafura-class. While the Australian Navy could certainly use the extra hulls to patrol its vast coastline, another key impetus for the sale is likely COVID-19. COVID-19 has suppressed global demand and severely hit the manufacturing sectors around the world, including Australia. As is typical in Australian defense contract announcements, the Department of Defense was quick to point out the number of jobs the new boats would support. In this case, 400 in Western Australia under Austal, and 1200 in the broader Australian supply chain.
The Hellenic Armed Forces announced that it would be leasing three Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from Israel Aerospace Industries for maritime missions. The Hellenic Armed Forces will lease the UAVs for a three-year period, with the option to purchase them following the end of the leasing agreement. The UAVs will be equipped with maritime patrol radars and satellite communications to perform maritime border security, search and rescue, and disaster observation missions. Greece’s decision to lease the Heron’s instead of purchasing them was potentially due to an already constrained defense budget. Despite allocating over two percent of its GDP towards defense, years of austerity measures following the economic downturn for Greece has prevented the budget from growing to accommodate costly upgrades across the armed services. The current priority of the Hellenic Armed Forces is upgrading its fleet of F-16s to the F-16V variant, a nearly $1 billion effort to upgrade a total of 84 aircraft expected to be completed in 2027.
On May 4, the Israel Ministry of Defense agreed to purchase an undisclosed number of Spike Firefly loitering munitions from Rafael. The contract value and delivery schedule were also not disclosed. The Firefly munitions are the result of a joint development project between Rafael and the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and they will be used to strike targets in urban environments which would otherwise be unreachable due to cover. While many aspects of this purchase are currently unclear, Dr. Ran Gozali, Executive Vice President and Head of the Land and Naval Division of Rafael, said that the company views the sale a building block towards future applications on a wider scale.