The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 6/11/20

 In Weekly Wire

India

Last week, the Indian government approved the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) project. This project is focused on the development and procurement of a twin-engine combat aircraft that can be launched from India’s aircraft carriers. This fighter aircraft will very likely be based on the locally developed Tejas fighter to continue support the local defense industrial base. The proposed fighter would host several Indian sensors and avionics systems including an active electronically scanned phased array radar. The approval comes five months after a naval variant of the Tejas successfully landed and took-off from the Indian carrier INS Vikramaditya. The experience gained after developing the naval Tejas variant for roughly 10 years will inform the TEDBF. The Ministry of Defense hopes to have an operational prototype by 2026, with induction into the fleet by 2031. Although the naval Tejas variant has already proven it can land and take-off from a carrier, modifying the Tejas airframe to accommodate two engines currently on the Tejas is not a simple matter.

This program is separate from a request for information from the Indian Navy for 57 carrier-based fighters. That request has been explicitly directed toward international firms with on-going production of twin-engine carrier-based fighters, with Dassault’s Rafale and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet the most likely contenders, though an extension buy of MiG-29Ks is possible. Boeing is set to carry out tests to ensure that the Super Hornet can take off from a ski-jump, while the Rafale is reportedly capable of this. The MiG-29K is already in service with the Indian Navy, but India may request a newer version with upgraded electronics. Besides the INS Vikramadita, India is currently building the INS Vikrant, a roughly 40,000-ton carrier that is also equipped with a ski-jump. India has plans for a larger catapult-equipped INS Vishal, but it has been delayed repeatedly over issues of costs and technical complexity. INS Vishal is not expected to enter service until the 2030s.

New Zealand

On June 5, New Zealand had announced that it intends to purchase five new C-130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft. The purchase is valued at $1.5 billion, with the aircraft being delivered between 2024-2025. The sale also includes a full mission simulator and facilities upgrades, in addition to the new aircraft themselves. The new C-130Js will replace New Zealand’s aging inventory of C-130H aircraft that New Zealand received in the late 1960s. The purchase is part of a larger effort to update New Zealand’s mobility aircraft, the next stage of which could include possibly replacing two Boeing 757 aircraft in 2021.

NATO

On June 8, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg launched a new initiative that focuses on NATO’s outlook for 2030. Secretary General Stoltenberg gave a speech on the impact COVID-19 has had on the NATO alliance, and how the alliance has reacted to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. The pandemic is just one of the several challenges facing the alliance as the organization begins a new decade. While the alliance’s focus has been and will continue to be addressing Russian aggression, NATO’s ten-year outlook will begin to shift its focus more on China’s growing military and economic influence. As China’s power continues to expand, the NATO alliance will seek closer cooperation with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea to counter China’s influence.

Secretary General Stoltenberg also reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to protecting democracies but stressed the importance of using NATO politically as well. Secretary General Stoltenberg stated, “Using NATO more politically also means using a broader range of tools, military and nonmilitary, economic and diplomatic … This is especially important as we work together to strengthen the resilience of our societies and our economies, and to ensure that we do not import vulnerabilities into our critical infrastructure, industries and supply chains.” NATO celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2019, but the organization has been criticized by world leaders over the past few years as being inadequate and outdated; French President Macron infamously called the organization “brain dead” in late 2019. As NATO looks forward, it will not only need to mitigate Russia and China’s global reach but continue to unify and strengthen the alliance against such opinions.

Japan

Japan’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency has begun the procurement of the country’s new UH-2 helicopters with an initial order of six aircraft for $131.6 million. The UH-2 is a militarized version of the Bell 412EPX that won the UH-X competition to replace the nation’s aging fleet of 120 UH-1Js. The helicopters will be produced by the Subaru Corporation’s defense division, formerly known as Fuji Heavy Industries.

Saudi Arabia

Growing interest in space solutions and communications has been quite noticeable recently in the Gulf countries, chiefly Saudi Arabia. Following the successful launch in February 2019 of the SaudiGeoSat 1 (SGS-1) payload, using a modernized LM 2100 satellite bus designed and built by Lockheed Martin, the American supplier has been selected again by the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (TAQNIA) to build and operate a new ground segment for SGS-1. By securing this partnerships, Saudi Arabia is looking to develop and strengthen its expertise across the civil and military space ecosystem.

Fitted with Ku- and Ka-band transponders, the SGS-1 is aimed at serving both secure and commercial operations for the Saudi government and GCC countries. The future SGS-1 ground system will therefore support advanced Ka-band spot beam communications services, commercial broadband services, and government specific secure communication services. It is anticipated the ground system will enter service in late 2020, whereas architecture around government secure communications will be phased in at a later stage.

France

After several successful deployments along the Mali frontlines since September 2019, the French Army has ordered another batch of 20 NX70 Block II mini-UAS. The overall value of the contract is now said to reach €4.0million ($4.51 million) and more than 40 units. The NX70 block II UAS has a flight time of 45 minutes, weighs 2.2 lbs, and carries two HD day cameras and one thermal camera. It can fly up 3,000m and takes less than one minute to deploy. Widely used for information, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations, the French Army is now also considering using NX70 Block II payload capacity (approx. 300g) for small medical or combat supplies, from munitions to smoke grenade. The new batch of NX70 Block II units are also expected to come equipped with a smart tablet for remote control and monitoring intended for soldier’s situational awareness (besides the drone operator). The overall system and architecture are built by the French firm Novadem, that already been contracted to supply drones to armed forces (French and foreign Special Forces) and security personnel (Marseille Fire Brigade).

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