The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 9.20.18

 In Weekly Wire

Hypersonic Weapons

Jessica Di Paolo, Senior Market Analyst

The threat of hypersonic weapons and the need to counter them has been gaining more attention within the Department of Defense (DoD). Most recently, the DoD’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), showcased its concept on developing technologies to counter both supersonic and hypersonic weapons, dubbed Glide Breaker, at its D60 Symposium. But DARPA isn’t the only branch exploring hypersonic technology. The Missile Defense Agency has increased its funding in FY19 for hypersonic defense, while the US Air Force awarded two contracts for hypersonic weapons in 2018 (Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapons and Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon) for a combined $1.4 billion. The US Navy and Army are also investing in hypersonic weapons, with all three military branches signing an agreement in July 2018 to co-develop a hypersonic missile prototype. The recent FY19 Appropriations also allocated more funding for hypersonic R&D. Congress allocated another $10 million more for Hypersonic Defense for Defense-Wide, bringing the total budget for FY19 to $130 million, while Hypersonics Prototyping under the Air Force received just over $500 million in funding.

Why is the Department of Defense scrambling to develop this next generation technology? Because Russia and China are also developing hypersonic weapons and are doing so aggressively, according to the Commander of US Strategic Command General John E. Hyten. A weapon that is hypersonic means it can travel at Mach 5 or potentially faster, a lethal characteristic that makes it difficult to counter. While DARPA is on the path to deter hypersonic missiles, developing this defense will take some time and a significant amount of funding. Project Glide Breaker seeks to develop a hard-kill interceptor to defend against hypersonic threats, but concerns have been made regarding the ability to intercept a missile traveling at Mach 5 and the ability for sensors to detect these incoming missiles quickly enough to respond. Another potential option the US is looking into is developing a space-based approach to detect and deter hypersonic threats. The initial cost of a space-based missile defense system is $20 billion, but development of such capability could easily be much more expensive. A prime example is the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, which has increased from an estimated $41 billion to develop to over $67 billion as of 2018.

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South Korea

Last week, a series of South Korean defense developments occurred during the DX Korea 2018 exhibition in Seoul. On September 13, the US State Department approved the possible sale of six P-8A maritime patrol aircraft worth up to $2.1 billion to South Korea. The country currently operates 16 P-3Cs and is seeking to expand the size of its maritime patrol aircraft fleet going into the future. The State Department also approved the sale of 64 PAC-3 MSE missiles, worth up to $501 million. South Korea is a relatively new PAC-3 user, first gaining the capability in 2016 when it began upgrading PAC-2 batteries with the ability to fire PAC-3 MSE missiles. Korean air defenses will also be upgraded with the beginning of mass production of the KM-SAM medium range air-defense system with the awarding of a $440 million contract to LIG Nex1. KM-SAM draws on elements of the Russian S-300 air-defense system and low-rate production units have already entered service. In naval developments, South Korea launched the first Chang Bogo-III class submarine. Nine of these submarines will be built through 2029 and will give South Korea the ability to launch long range strikes on land-based targets from underwater. The KM-SAM and Chang Bogo-III developments are particularly important as the Defense Acquisition Program Administration has been pushing towards indigenization of defense equipment and the development of what South Korea calls 4th Industrial Revolution technologies.

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During a joint press conference at the White House, Polish president Andrzej Duda stated that he had pushed Poland’s request for the US to permanently station an armored division in Poland during his meeting with President Trump. The move is seen by the Polish government to stave off potential Russian aggression and limit the perception of Poland as a “buffer state” in a potential conflict. The deal itself would see Poland allocate up to $2 billion in exchange for the US commitment of an armored division. This would double US major force commitments in Europe, which currently stand at an infantry brigade, a Stryker brigade, and a rotating armored brigade. However, potential obstacles remain for the acceptance of the deal. The foremost among them is that the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act forbade the stationing of permanent US forces in Central and Eastern Europe in exchange for the expansion of NATO, unless the underlying security environment changed. Debates have emerged regarding whether the invasion of Crimea constitutes such a violation. The second major obstacle is one of cost: while the potential offer of $2 billion is substantial, it is likely insufficient to offset personnel and O&M costs inherent in standing up the additional force structure required to sustain such a commitment. Meanwhile, naming rights to the potential base have already been diverted to the marketing department as the Polish president has begun pitching the plan as “Fort Trump”.

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Press reports suggest that the Indian Army may be in the preliminary stages of an ambitious reorganization effort to downsize the service. Unlike its global competitors, India has been adding personnel in recent years, and now maintains the second-largest standing army in the world with 1.22 million servicemembers. Only China fields a larger army. The effort is led by Chief of Army Staff Bipin Rawat in response to a trend in annual budgeting in which personnel costs increasingly crowd out investment. Procurement accounts for only 15 percent of Army spending in FY 2019. This trend to smaller capital outlays comes at a time when government audits and parliamentary investigations have revealed that Army personnel have faced shortages of ammunition and bullet proof vests.

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Portugal flagEstonia/Portugal

In mid-September, AeroVironment was awarded two contracts to supply small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to Portugal and Estonia. On September 13, AeroVironment announced that Portugal had signed a contract for the Raven UAS that was worth $5.96 million. On September 14, the US Department of Defense awarded a contract worth $8.87 million for the sale of the Puma AE system to Estonia. Both purchases are likely meant to improve the ISR capabilities of the countries involved, but the rationale behind the purchases differs. Portugal’s procurement is part of a larger effort to invest in and develop unmanned capabilities across its military. Estonia, in contrast, needs to improve its ISR capabilities to meet a growing need for situational awareness in the Baltic region.

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