The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 5.9.19
On May 6, Russia offered its Su-57 fighter as a substitute for the F-35 if the United States ends Turkey’s participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program. Turkey has agreed to purchase the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia, despite protests from the United States and other NATO allies. This has led to significant concerns that Turkish use of both a Russian air defense system and the F-35 would allow Russia to collect detailed information about the F-35 and develop countermeasures against the aircraft. These fears have prompted Congress to threaten to prevent Turkey from receiving any F-35s should it decide to field the S-400 system. The Russian Su-57 is seen as a logical alternative to the F-35, as Turkey needs to acquire more advanced fighters in order to meet its security needs. If Turkey continues to move forward with the acquisition of the S-400, the US will almost certainly pull the F-35 deal.
The Polish Ministry of Defense is looking to move forward with a potential acquisition of F-35s as part of its modernization plan to purchase 32 fifth-generation fighters. The new fighters will replace Poland’s fleet of Su-22 and MiG-29s. Dubbed the ‘Harpia’ program, Poland decided to accelerate the acquisition of new fighters following a third crash of its MiG-29s in March 2019. First deliveries of the new aircraft are expected to start in 2024. Poland previously received interest from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Saab, and Leonardo, but has indicated its preference for the F-35. The purchase of new fighters is part of a large modernization overhaul in which Poland plans on spending $48.5 billion over a ten-year period. Poland expects defense spending to reach 2.4% of GDP with 40% of its budget allocated towards procurement by 2026. However, Avascent Analytics estimates that by 2026, Poland’s defense budget will likely only reach 2.2% of its GDP with 26% of its defense budget allocated towards acquisition. Given this, Avascent Analytics assumes Poland will likely spend $27.9 billion on modernizing its defense forces instead of the full $48.5 billion its currently promising.
Indonesia’s PT Pindad and Turkey’s FNSS signed the first production contract for the jointly developed Kaplan MT (Indonesian designation Harimau) medium tank. The contract will begin with initial production of 18 units within two years, after which full-rate production will begin. Indonesia has allocated funding for 44 tanks but hopes to eventually have a total of 412 in service. The tank has also drawn some interest from other countries looking for affordable options to upgrade their armored capability. Bangladesh is one of the countries that has reportedly shown interest in the Kaplan MT. While the Bangladeshi Army’s tank fleet mostly consists of older Chinese tanks, China has assisted Bangladesh in upgrading these tanks in recent years. Brunei operates 16 FV101 Scorpion light tanks that it purchased from the UK in 1976. Were the Kaplan MT to replace the Scorpions, they would constitute a substantial increase in firepower for Brunei’s small land force. The Philippines, like Brunei, operates a small number of FV101 Scorpions. Twelve were recently upgraded, but the Philippine Army has begun considering a tank acquisition with heavier firepower, after its experience fighting ISIS-linked terrorists in Marawi. Considering Indonesia and the Philippines’ similar geography, climate, and to some extent security challenges, it is not surprising that the Philippines has shown interest in the Kaplan MT.
On April 29, the Indian press reported that the Indian Army was using emergency financial powers to procure anti-tank and air-defense missiles from Israel and Russia. The purchase would include 250 Spike-LR anti-tank missiles from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, along with 12 launchers, and the same number of Rosoboronexport’s Igla-S Very Short-Range Air-Defense missiles. Until the emergency purchase, the tender for both requirements had been languishing in New Delhi’s byzantine procurement process. The recent crisis between India and Pakistan, in which India lost a MiG-21, may have triggered the decision. The financial value of the award was not disclosed.
On May 1, it was announced that the UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson was dismissed after allegedly being responsible for leaking information regarding discussions within the UK National Security Council (NSC) about the role of Chinese firm Huawei in developing the UK’s 5G communications network. While Williamson has strenuously denied these allegations, British Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that there was compelling evidence.
The removal of Williamson from the role of Defense Secretary has been met with a mixed response. On the one hand he was a strong advocate for the UK Armed Forces by fighting, and in some ways succeeding, to secure necessary increases in defense spending. However, it can also be said that some difficult decisions around the future of UK defense have been delayed for his own political reasons.
It was announced on the same day that the new Defense Secretary is to be Penny Mordaunt, who has previously served as the Armed Forces Minister within the Ministry of Defence before becoming International Development Secretary. While Mordaunt can be credited with having experience and knowledge of defense, she now faces a difficult decision whether to continue to fight for increased funding or to implement unpopular cuts in order to address a budget shortfall. Regardless of whether her predecessor was the source of the NSC leak, the way he fought to increase the defense budget left him with several political enemies and ultimately few allies.