The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 9/11/20
India Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) successfully flew its Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) on Monday, September 7. The HSTDV is a remote-controlled scramjet demonstrator used as a carrier aircraft that will be leveraged in future dual-use applications, such as launching long-range missiles or on future satellites on the commercial side. Launched from the Dr Abdul Kalam Island Integrated Test Range Missile Testing Facility via an Agni missile’s solid rocket booster, this scramjet-powered hypersonic cruise vehicle reached Mach 6 for allegedly 22-24 seconds.
The successful launch builds upon a failed attempt in June 2019 as well as DRDO and ISRO investment in the scramjet, ramjet, and hypersonics sector since 2004. The most well-known of these has been the development and production of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile alongside Russia, where the Mach 2.8, ramjet-powered Brahmos recently began to be fielded to select squadrons of India’s Su-30MKI fleet.
India has begun providing substantial funding in testing capabilities due to regional arms race, tensions with neighboring countries and the recent military equipment dominance from China, notably in that field with the DF-17 missile, with the hopes of developing and producing a domestic hypersonic cruise missile before 2030.
Speaking during a budget briefing last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the country’s defense budget would see an 11% increase for 2021 relative to 2020. The president specified that the uptick is compelled by the ongoing conflict with Islamic extremists in the nation’s south, as well as the need to sustain various ongoing modernization programs. Of the 209.1 billion Philippine pesos (USD $4.3 billion) allocated to next year’s defense budget, the Philippine Army will receive P96.8 billion (USD $1.99 billion), while the Philippine Navy and Air Force will receive P31.1 billion (USD $640 million) and P29.8 billion ($610 million) respectively. An additional P33 billion ($USD 680 million) is earmarked specifically for near-term military modernization programs, which some observers predict could include the procurement of Israeli-made ATMOS artillery systems and new coastal defense missile launchers. Recent Philippine military modernization efforts have included air defense radar acquisitions from Japan and newly manufactured ships for the Navy, impelled in large part by ongoing territorial disputes with China off the Philippine coast.
Croatia looks to restart its fighter jet competition after its attempt to purchase ex-Israeli F-16s was waylaid by US-Israeli arms sales agreements. Saab has chosen to reenter the competition by offering the JAS 39 Gripen C/D. The offering of the venerable fighter, already in use by several countries in the region, instead of the new Gripen E/F likely represents an attempt by Saab to be even more aggressive on price than its previous offerings, particularly as Croatia’s tourism economy has been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Saab will also likely look to offer favorable terms, leasing, and industrial incentives to Croatia, as it had previously done for both the Czech and Hungarian Gripen fleets.
After a similar move in Spain, France ordered three A330 aircraft that will be converted into the Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT-Phenix) configuration for €200 million ($218 million). This is three more units on top of the initial target of 12 units to be delivered by 2023 as per the 2019-2025 military programming law. Consequently, the French Air Force will have a total fleet of 15 operational Phenix by 2025. The newly ordered aircraft are expected to be delivered by 2022, and hence ease the phasing out of remaining French Air Force A340 and A310 transport aircraft.
This acquisition is part of the financial recovery plan adopted by the French government in June, involving a €600 million ($711 million) package to help the French aerospace industry. Besides providing relief to the European prime Airbus’ backlog, this additional purchase highlights the relevance of such aircraft: the Phenix has proven its efficiency in multiple theaters, and, more recently, during the pandemic in France by flying several times patients in intensive care from one emergency unit to another.
On September 3, the Australian government announced a request for tender for LAND 8116 Phase 2, a project to build 30 self-propelled howitzers (SPH) for the Australian Army, as well as the supporting ammunition resupply vehicles. The announcement also confirmed that Hanwha, through its subsidiary Hanwha Defence Australia, is the preferred supplier with the K9 Thunder SPH and K10 ammunition resupply vehicle. Hanwha has agreed to build the vehicles in Victoria, which had previously lost the opportunity to build infantry fighting vehicles under LAND 400 Phase 2 to Queensland and Rheinmetall. Hanwha’s arrangement to build the K9 in Victoria was likely key to its selection. Considering Rheinmetall and its Queensland production line had already won billions in Australian Department of Defense (DoD) contracts for the Boxer infantry fighting vehicle and thousands of logistics vehicles, it’s no surprise that a July DoD announcement made it clear that LAND 8116 Phase 2’s capability would be built in Victoria. This effectively made Hanwha the only qualified bidder. The K9 production facility in Victoria also lays the groundwork for Hanwha’s offer for LAND 400 Phase 3, which will procure around 450 armored vehicles to replace the M113 armored personnel carrier. Hanwha is offering to have its vehicle, the AS21 Redback, also built in Victoria should it be selected.
On September 9, Poland down-selected four bidders to meet its Pegaz tactical vehicle requirement. Arquus has teamed with local company H. Cegielski-Poznan to offer its Fortress Mk 2 vehicle while Thales Australia’s Hawkei has also been down-selected. The other two platforms have been developed in the region, with Huta Stalowa Wola and Tatra offering its Patriot II vehicle and local manufacturer AMZ Kutno entering the Tur V. Production will take place in Poland with 15 vehicles initially being procured for Special Forces with an option for an additional 90. This is a reduction from the original scope of the program which aimed to have hundreds of vehicles being procured.
On September 8, Ukraine announced it is considering purchasing the Super Tucano aircraft. The Super Tucanos would be useful in that they could be used as jet trainers and as light attack aircraft. As such, they would be helpful for training Ukrainian pilots in advance of additional fighter purchases and they could be used to counter separatists in the eastern part of the country. Additionally, Ukraine’s current L-39s are becoming outdated, and maintenance costs are a growing concern given Ukraine’s limited defense budget. However, no official announcements have been made and Aero Vodochody, the manufacturer of the L-39, is releasing an updated version of that aircraft in the near future – which could represent competition in this area.