The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 6.27.19
Updates from the 2019 Maritime/Air Systems and Technologies Asia Conference
Aaron Lin, Senior Market Analyst
The 2019 Maritime/Air Systems and Technologies (MAST) Asia conference took place in Tokyo last week, coinciding with the 2019 Paris Air Show. While most defense related headlines were dominated by Paris Air Show news, some developments from MAST Asia include:
- Mitsui revealed its design proposal for a future Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force offshore patrol vessel. The 2019-2023 Mid-Term Defense Plan would acquire four ships by 2023, with a goal to eventually induct 12. Although the Japanese Ministry of Defense plans to award a contract in 2022, internal design research has been going on since at least 2013. Studies on a trimaran hull design are similar to that of the American Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship.
- The Mitsubishi Heavy Industry (MHI) OZZ-5 unmanned underwater vehicle was displayed at the show. The MoD Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency (ATLA) announced that development of the OZZ-5 was complete, and work was ongoing to induct the OZZ-5 into service. The OZZ-5 is optimized for mine clearance missions and is currently equipped with a Thales synthetic aperture sonar payload. MHI has been working on the OZZ-5 since at least 2013, and the company received JPY 4 billion in 2018 from the MoD to develop a prototype that could be launched from the upcoming 30DX destroyers, the first of which should enter service by 2022.
- With Japan’s increased focus on amphibious operations, ATLA has been investing the development of amphibious technology. In May, ATLA signed an agreement with the US DoD that would facilitate joint research with the US. A problem to overcome are the coral reefs that surround many of Japan’s small islands. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has internally developed the Mitsubishi Amphibious Vehicle, which may provide the basis for a future vehicle.
- ATLA showcased research being conducted on a thrust vectoring engine for the future F-3 fighter. Unlike the paddle design seen in the ATD-X technology demonstrator, the model showcased featured a thrust vectoring nozzle design externally similar to the Russian Izdeliye-30.
In early June, Pakistan released its federal budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1. The budget—the first since PM Imran Khan took power last year—includes austerity reforms meant to secure a $6 billion IMF loan. Deep cuts to healthcare and housing, along with sales tax hikes, have made this budget extremely unpopular. Ordinary Pakistanis, already facing economic headwinds and inflation exceeding 9 percent, will feel particularly hard-hit.
The defense budget includes austerity measures, although these cuts were likely made for political reasons and will prove temporary. As it often does, the military will likely be allocated funds above proposed toplines throughout the year. The budget, for example, cuts O&M spending by 20 percent. Such a dramatic cut in O&M will be almost impossible to implement, especially given tensions with India and continued operations along the Afghan border. Defense procurement, on the other hand, received a 7 percent boost, and will exceed $2.6 billion in 2020. Procurement now accounts for 27 percent of defense spending, reflecting the ability of the military to protect its priorities, even in tight fiscal environments.
On June 24, a committee within the Indian Ministry of Defense approved the purchase of additional P-8 Poseidon aircraft. At present, the goal is to purchase ten more P-8s with a contract value of approximately $3 billion. The proposed purchase will need to be approved by the Indian Defence Acquisition Council by August in order for it to go through. India has already purchased 12 P-8s, and these new aircraft will replace their aging fleet of IL-38 and TU-142 maritime patrol aircraft.
On June 21, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov announced that the government was in the final stages of negotiations with the US to purchase eight F-16 Block 70/72s. Currently, the potential sale is priced at $1.28 billion (BGN 2.2 billion), but Bulgarian officials will be looking for ways to lower that total as the Bulgarian Parliament placed a spending cap of $1.04 billion (BGN 1.8 billion) on the project. According to the Bulgarian Minister of Economy, the deal will also feature US-Bulgarian industrial cooperation across repair and training portions of the sale, as well as specific portions of the software. When the deal is complete, Bulgaria plans to pay for the purchase in full, which will require an update of the Bulgarian defense budget and Bulgaria to have a debt issuance.
On June 21, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense announced that it would not repair its flagship vessel, the KNM Helge Ingstad, after recovering it from the ocean floor following a collision with a Maltese oil tanker in November 2018. Norway previously released a report on the frigate that estimated the repair costs to be up to $1.6 billion (NOK 14 billion), while the cost to replace the frigate was just shy of the costs to repair it (approximately $1.5 billion). Given the similar estimates to either replace or repair the frigate, and the uncertainty surrounding how much of the vessel can be repaired, the decision to replace the frigate seemed the most logical solution. The Helge Ingstad was the flagship vessel of a fleet of five Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates.
The KNM Helge Ingstad crashed into the Maltese oil tanker Sola TS at around 4am on November 8, 2018. Reports immediately following the crash indicate a series of issues led to the unfortunate collision, though the most serious issue was that the KNM Helge Ingstad had its Automatic Identification System (AIS) turned off. AIS is a maritime tracking system in which location-based information is exchanged between vessels equipped with AIS terminals. In addition to the AIS turned off, confusion aboard the Norwegian frigate caused the crew to initially think that the lights on Sola TS emanated from the shore instead of another vessel. Though the Maltese tanker attempted to reach out and advise the Norwegian frigate to change course, the crew aboard the frigate assumed it was talking to another vessel instead of the oncoming Sola TS and decided not to change course. It was only at the last minute did the crew aboard the Norwegian frigate realized its mistake before attempting to avoid a collision, though action was taken too late and resulted in the much smaller frigate colliding with the oil tanker.