The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 1.18.17

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South Korea

The South Korean Ministry of Defense said on January 6th that it plans to build a laser weapon system by next year that can better counter the threats posed by North Korea’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). A number of these UAVs have been captured near the border areas in recent years in what are thought to be covert reconnaissance missions, though North Korea denies ownership. South Korea says the North is building larger drones with greater range, and estimates that it possesses some 300 surveillance-capable drones and around 10 ground attack-capable drones already. Drone threats are particularly challenging because, despite heavy fortification along the demilitarized zone (DMZ), drones are not easily detected by radar and are difficult to bring down with conventional anti-aircraft weapons when they are. A ministry official, speaking anonymously, said the laser interception technology is due to be completed by next year, while the overall system will be integrated by 2021.

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France

On January 10th, France announced that it has ordered a fourth Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in order to complete the Direction Générale pour l’Armement’s (DGA) goal of having four such systems operational by 2019. Each system is comprised of three unmanned aircraft. The French military has been using three Reaper UAVs as reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering platforms in support of operations in West Africa, and received another three in 2016. Those remaining three will be delivered between 2017 and 2019. The new systems may allow for expanded operations – either in terms of greater coverage in Africa or expansion into new areas.

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Brazil

Ares Aeroespacial e Defesa SA, an Elbit Systems Brazilian subsidiary, has been contracted by the Brazilian Army to supply remote controlled weapons stations (RCWS). The contract, worth approximately $100 million, includes associated equipment and services and will be supplied over a five-year period. The RCWS, named REMAX, is a stabilized weapon station for 12.7/7.62mm machine guns that has been specifically designed to meet Brazilian Army requirements as part of its Armored Personnel Carrier (“Blindada Transporte de Pessoal,” or VBTP, in Portuguese) program. The REMAX systems have been successfully tested and fielded on the Brazilian Army’s Guarani 6×6 vehicles and will be used on armored and logistics vehicles that transport troops and conduct border patrol and peacekeeping missions.

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Malaysia

The Malaysian Armed Forces will begin receiving the first of its six expected MD 530G helicopters in March 2017, fulfilling the Malaysian Army’s longstanding requirement for light attack helicopters. MD Helicopters was selected over Airbus, Bell, Boeing, and Turkish Aerospace Industries in February 2016 for a contract worth $72 million. MD Helicopters worked alongside the Malaysian-based defense company Halaman Optima to complete the delivery. Initial deliveries for the MD 530G were expected in late 2016; however, all six will be delivered in 2017. The rotorcraft are destined for Malaysia’s army aviation unit in order to support security missions in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Malaysia became the first customer of the newly-developed rotorcraft, which is based off of the MD 530F and fitted with an upgraded landing gear skid system, Garmin G500 avionics, and 70mm laser-guided rockets fired from M260 rocket pods. The same order also contains a weapons package for the MD 530G which includes the Dillon Aero M134D minigun and the FN Herstal RMP LC pod.

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Germany

On January 10th, German firm Rheinmetall and Austrian small arms maker Steyr Mannlicher announced that they will jointly manufacture and market the RS556 assault rifle to fulfill a German requirement to replace its current standard G36 assault rifle. The RS556 is a modular design which draws upon two other Steyr firearms, the STM556 and the AUG. The German Bundeswehr plans to introduce the new service rifle by 2019 and expects to gradually phase the G36 out in six to seven years. The initial requirement is for 124,000 new rifles, though the Bundeswehr currently has over 160,000 G36s in service. The G36 has been surrounded by controversy since 2015, when it was reported that the weapon was not accurate when the rifle was hot. Rheinmetall and Steyr have stated that their new weapon will have features to ensure reliable operation in extreme conditions. The RS556 will likely face competition from the Heckler & Koch HK416, which France recently selected to replace its service rifle. Although Heckler & Koch also manufactured the G36, Germany and France have had plans to use a common weapon for their armed forces. The effort to replace the G36 is estimated to cost around $700M.

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