The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 6/25/20
Rafael Looks to Continue the Year of the Spike
Benjamin Goodlad, Research Associate
On June 22, Rafael unveiled its Spike NLOS launcher that is competing to meet Poland’s Ottokar-Brzoza tank destroyer requirement. While success is by no means certain as it is competing against MBDA’s Brimstone 2 and Lockheed Martin’s Hellfire missile, the previous 12 months have seen a number of notable successes for the Spike family.
In Eastern Europe, Estonia selected Spike missiles in June 2019 while first deliveries of the missiles to Latvia took place in February 2020. Slovakia became the latest Eastern European country to select Spike, procuring Spike LR2 missiles in March 2020. These sales build on previous successes in Lithuania and Poland in recent years, as well as longer term customers in Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovenia. This success has been driven by both Rafael and the Eurospike joint venture, consisting of Rafael, Diehl, and Rheinmetall. Eurospike has also continued to see orders from Germany, signing a new framework agreement in November 2019. This covered an initial order for 1,500 missiles.
Rafael also continues to move forward with Spike sales outside of Europe, with India placing an order for 260 Spike LR missiles and 12 launcher units in December 2019. While this order is not at the scale of India’s original order of 5,500 units, it does indicate that Rafael continues to maintain a strong relationship with the Indian Army. Another significant win for Spike was the selection of Spike LR2 by the Australian Defence Force in February 2020 to meet its Land 159 Lethality System requirement. Australia had already selected Spike to provide the anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) armament for the Boxer infantry fighting vehicles being procured under the Land 400 program.
A major advantage for Spike is the fact that it has developed into a family of weapons from the short -range Spike SR with a range 2km to Spike NLOS with a range of 32km. The family of missiles can also be used from both ground and air platforms, having been integrated on 45 separate platforms. Spike NLOS is combat proven, used not only by the Israeli Defense Force but also by the British Army in Afghanistan under the name Exactor. As countries such as Poland look to increase the range of their anti-tank capability, Spike NLOS is well placed to meet the requirement due to its commonality with other missiles within the inventories of a large user community.
At the same time, MBDA’s Brimstone 2 offers a combat proven solution, albeit in an air-to-ground rather than ground-launched ATGM capacity. MBDA has already demonstrated its anti-tank offering for Poland, teaming with local manufacturer PGZ. These demonstrators have seen up to 24 missiles mounted onto both tracked and wheeled platforms, suggesting that the Brimstone solution would provide a greater volume of fire compared to Spike NLOS. While Spike NLOS utilizes an EO/IR seeker and data-link for guidance, Brimstone 2 features a dual mode seeker with both Semi-Active Laser and millimetric radar guidance.
Hellfire, while appearing to be a generation behind Spike NLOS and Brimstone 2, still has a significant advantage over both weapons in the fact that it continues to be produced in much higher quantities which enables a lower unit cost. Hellfire also benefits from being offered via the US Foreign Military Sales program. For these reasons, Javelin continues to enjoy success competing against Spike, winning orders from the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and Poland in the last 12 months.
Following the cancellation of the Vehiculo de Combate sobra Ruedas (VCR) 8×8 project in December 2019, the Spanish government has been keen to revamp the €2 billion ($2.3 billion) program since then. Calling for a first batch of 348 vehicles to be manufactured by General Dynamic- Santa Barbara Sistemas, the main reasons that led to cancellation were the rising costsm which exceeded initially agreed plans and a recompete order was anticipated.
However, at a time where support to the local defense industry is highly needed in a post COVID-19 era and amidst a global recession, leading Spanish defense suppliers went for another option. Indra Sistemas, Sapa Placencia, and Escribano Mechanical & Engineering have announced in May 2020 their collaboration with Santa Barabara Sistemas to form a joint company that will execute the VCR program, from production to marketing, and future vehicle maintenance. With a participation of 70 percent of the local industry, the VCR program is now expected to create 650 direct and another 1,000 indirect jobs.
In June 2020, project progress and demonstrator development maturity have been positively acknowledged during a general meeting in Seville between the Spanish ministry of defense and the joint venture (Indra Sistemas, Sapa Placencia, Escribano Mechanical & Engineering and Santa Barabara Sistemas). Two technology demonstrators are expected to take part of a test campaign and firing trials in July 2020. If the outcome is positive, the project is expected to be awarded in 2020 H2 and first deliveries are expected by 2022.
Following hand-to-hand skirmishes between Indian and Chinese forces that led to deaths on both sides, the Indian Air Force is fast-tracking the acquisition of 21 MiG-29s and 12 Su-30MKIs. The 33 aircraft will help to replace aircraft that have been lost in a long string of accidents, as well as partially address a looming fighter shortfall. The order will also extend the Su-30MKI production line at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which before this acquisition was due to run out of orders next year. This comes at a time when the Indian defense industry, as well as the broader economy, has been suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unclear exactly where the 21 MiG-29s will come from, as they are reportedly from a cancelled order. They will not be the same as the MiG-29UPGs that the Indian Air Force operates. India is the sole operator of UPG variant of the MiG-29, which was a modification for the Indian Air Force.
The skirmish that precipitated this order appears to be cooling down, but the strategic balance in this border region has been gradually shifting. China faces a serious logistics problem in Tibet, which borders India, due to the distance from China’s heartland and the difficult terrain. Furthermore, Tibet’s high altitude limits the amount of fuel and payload any aircraft taking off from Tibet can carry. In response, Chinese investment in new infrastructure in Tibet, such as roads and airfields, has been growing substantially. The new roads and airfields mean that China will be able to support more ground troops and aircraft in the region, gradually eroding India’s geographic advantages.
On June 18, Rheinmetall was awarded a potential $2.26 billion contract for upgrading the German Army’s fleet of HX logistics vehicles. The contract will see the Bundeswehr’s fleet of HX 8×8 logistics vehicles upgraded to a more modern configuration that would see them equipped with an armored cab, a hook loader, and other upgrades that will increase fleet commonality while decreasing maintenance costs. The upgrade will be executed at the RMMV plant in Vienna through a body swap that includes replacing the replacement of engines, axles, and transmissions. The contract’s ceiling is for the delivery of 4,000 vehicles from 2021 to 2027. The initial production lot is for 540 vehicles and is worth $392 million. 230 of these vehicles will include the armored cab upgrade to facilitate their mission of delivering ammunition in forward operating areas. This order is separate from a seven-year 2017 agreement that would see 2,271 unarmored variants be delivered to the Bundeswher.
On June 19, the German government and Damen Shipyards formally signed a contract to construct four MKS 180 Frigates, with an option for two more. The contract is valued at €4.6 billion (approximately $5.2 billion), and the ships are expected to be delivered between 2027 and 2031. Damen allied with Lurssen to win the contract, and Lurssen will split some of its workshare with German Naval Shipyards – an agreement that was reached in order to have GNY drop a formal complaint about the award. The new ships will replace Germany’s Type 122 Bremen class and Type 143A fast attack craft, and will perform missions related to anti-submarine warfare, anti-mine operations, and defense of territorial waters.
Poland’s Ambassador to the Philippines Jarosław Szczepankiewicz has confirmed that the first six of 16 total S-70i Black Hawk helicopters will be delivered to the Philippine Air Force by year’s end. Poland’s Polish Aviation Works-Mielec (PZL-Mielec) will serve as the prime contractor. The delivery will make the Philippines the fourth country to operate armed S-70i Black Hawks along with the United States, United Arab Emirates, and Colombia. According to Szczepankiewicz, the incoming fleet will be fully armed with intended applications in combat utility mission areas. Polish and Philippine officials are hopefully that all 16 rotorcraft will be operational in 2023, while the initial batch of six could be deployable as early as June 2022. The incoming S-70i Black Hawks will be assembled in PZL-Mielec’s Poland-based factory and will receive final certification from U.S.-based Lockheed Martin Sikorsky prior to this year’s anticipated delivery. Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana also specified that the fleet’s pilots will be trained in the United States.
This month,French Armed Forces are receiving the first mini unmanned aerial system developed by Thales based on the Spy Ranger model. They will replace the Drone de Renseignement Au Contact (DRAC) in service since 2008. Branded Systèmes de mini-drones de renseignement (SMDR), each system comprises three platforms and one ground control station. The SMDR started flight tests in April 2020. According to the €100 million ($113.2 million) contract signed in 2016, more than 70 systems are expected to be delivered in the coming years, as part of the requirements stated by the 2019-2025 military program law.