The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 6.28.18
On June 25, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.12 billion contract to build 16 new F-16V Block 70 aircraft for Bahrain. The contract award is the culmination of a sale approved in September 2017. This continues a string of high-profile fighter procurements in the Gulf region. While Bahrain does have a need for new fighters, this purchase is arguably more important for Lockheed Martin, which will produce the aircraft from its new production line in Greenville, South Carolina. With a backlog of F-16 orders drying up, this new contract will keep the Greenville line operating for another three to five years. The new fighters would nearly double the number of F-16’s in combat service for the Bahraini Air Force. Bahrain received approval last September to upgrade 20 of its older F-16 Block 40 aircraft to F-16V standard, a deal potentially worth $1.08 billion.
On June 25, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced that it would purchase the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. The exact number of aircraft that South Korea will buy has not been announced, but it will likely acquire six planes given that the contract is valued at $1.7 billion. The new planes will serve as replacements for South Korea’s existing inventory of P-3 Orion aircraft. Additionally, it is expected that the P-8s anti-submarine capabilities would help to defend against North Korean sub-launched missiles through early detection.
On June 26, the US Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office announced that the service’s B-21 program is on track to complete the critical design review by the end of 2018. The B-21 has been undergoing wind tunnel testing, though several sources indicate that the testing of the bomber had likely started before 2018. The Air Force is looking to acquire 100 bombers to replace its aging fleet of B-1s and B-2s, at an the estimated cost of $550 million per B-21. Production of the new bombers is anticipated to begin in the mid-2020s. Northrop Grumman was awarded a development contract for the B-21 in 2015, with news sources estimating the contract value at $21.4 billion (in 2010 dollars). Given the highly classified nature of the program, little information about it has been made available to the public though in 2016, the Air Force revealed several contractors working on the bomber in addition to Northrop Grumman. The contractors include Pratt & Whitney, GKN Aerospace, BAE Systems, Janicki Industries, and Spirit AeroSystems.
Australia has announced a $1.4 billion purchase of six MQ-4 Tritons from the US. The long-planned acquisition is part of a series of acquisitions by Australia to enhance its airborne maritime patrol and anti-submarine capabilities, which will see the MQ-4s complement P-8A Poseidons. The first MQ-4 is set to arrive in mid-2023, about a year after the delivery of the 12th and final P-8A. The deal also includes several offset agreements from the acquisition, including a $50 million investment into a sustainment center of excellence, $364 million in facility investments at Royal Australian Air Force bases, and a $200 million partnership with the US Navy on future work for the MQ-4.
The sale of Spike anti-tank missiles to India—once alive, then dead—may be alive once more. Six months after the deal was officially cancelled, reporting from New Delhi suggests that India and Israel may be on the verge of a government-to-government deal for 4,500 Spike missiles worth an estimated $500 million. If it goes through on those terms, it will represent a significant downgrade in the scope of the deal. The original $1 billion contract called for Israel’s Rafael to deliver more than 8,000 Spike ATGMS, and India’s Bharat Dynamics Limited to manufacture an additional 3,000 systems under the “Make in India” program. Reviving the Spike missile procurement attests to the importance each country places on the bilateral defense relationship, as well as the challenges India has had in translating defense procurement into indigenous industrial capabilities. India is Israel’s largest defense export market, and India views Israel as a reliable supplier of high technology and defense equipment.