The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 7.19.18
On the first day of the Farnborough Airshow, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson unveiled the UK’s new Future Combat Air Strategy. The strategy aims to develop an advanced fighter aircraft and indigenous industry to meet Britain’s needs. The plan features a team dubbed “Project Tempest” – which includes BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA, and Rolls-Royce – working in a joint program office alongside their government counterparts to develop designs and technologies to enable a potential demonstrator by the mid-2020s, with the aircraft first entering service by 2035.
The project looks to pull over $2.6 billion in funding over the next 10 years from commitments made in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security review, but some analysts already noted that the National Audit Office estimated that the MoD Equipment Plan was already underfunded by as much as $27.4 billion. Thus, it is highly likely that Team Tempest will continue to look to add partners to overcome this potential funding gap, with Sweden and Saab already showing heavy interest. Other major investors may include Japan and Turkey. Japan has primarily been focusing on finding a partner to develop a 5th generation fighter, but has seen the potential costs greatly exceed expectations. Italy is also seen as a possible partner to support Leonardo; however, it currently has heavy investments in both the F-35 and the Eurofighter program.
As part of the Future Combat Air Strategy, the UK has also signaled that it will continue to upgrade its Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to develop future sensors and weapons technology, with the best technology then incorporated into Tempest. This raises the possibility of the UK partnering with other Typhoon users. Additionally, the Eurofighter Typhoon was pitched for the current future fighter competition in Belgium as a possible example of future cooperation should BAE’s bid be accepted.
Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced his intentions to cancel the acquisition of eight MH-60R Seahawks worth $1.3 billion when he enters office December 2018. The decision to cancel the acquisition is part of his cost cutting efforts, telling reporters on July 11 that the government could not afford the acquisition. Mexico was approved to purchase the MH-60Rs in April 2018 with the intention to use the aircraft to help combat drug cartels using maritime routes to smuggle drugs. The rotorcraft was to be equipped with AN/APS-153 multi-mode radars, AN/AAS-44C multi-spectral targeting systems, and AN/APX-123 IFF transponders to assist with combatting illegal drug trades. The Mexican Ministry of Defense will likely still need to acquire a maritime helicopter fleet if the MH-60Rs are in fact canceled, as it currently operates four secondhand CH-53 Sea Stallions acquired from Israel in 2005.
Over the last week, Saudi Arabia signed two contracts totaling about $2.5 billion for surface vessels. On July 12, Saudi Arabia signed a contract with Navantia for five corvettes based on the Avante 2200 worth over $2 billion. The contract signing is the culmination of negotiations that have been ongoing since 2015. Navantia will create a joint venture with Saudi Arabian Military Industries. The joint venture will localize combat systems activity, such as integration and installation, which will contribute to Saudi efforts to develop the local defense industry. On July 16, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $450 million contract for long-lead materials and design work to support the construction of four Multi-Mission Surface Combatants (MMSS), a derivative of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship. Both acquisitions fall under the ambitious Saudi Naval Expansion Plan II (SNEP II), a program that calls for Saudi Arabia to spend well over $20 billion for through the 2020s.
On July 13, Chilean Air Force officials received the first three S-70i Black Hawk helicopters from Sikorsky’s PZL Mielec facility in Poland. The delivery is part of a larger deal for six helicopters worth an estimated $180 million and will constitute part of the Air Force’s medium-lift helicopter recapitalization program. Chile will receive the final three S-70i rotorcraft later this year. The decision to purchase the S-70i was announced in August 2016, when the Black Hawk was selected over the Airbus’ H215, KAI’s Surion, Leonardo’s AW149, and Rosoboronexport’s Mi-17.
On July 16, the Netherlands signed a contract with General Atomics for four MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The purchase has been in the planning stages since 2003, and has been valued at approximately $339 million. This is the first sale of a UAS system since the United States relaxed the arms sales rules which previously impeded the sale of larger systems internationally. These Reaper UAS will be unarmed, and therefore will be used to augment the Netherlands’ ISR capabilities for both domestic defense and NATO missions.