The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 1.9.17
The Israeli Air Force retired the last of its F-16A/B “Netz,” ending the fighter aircraft’s 36 years of operational service. 90 Netz aircraft were withdrawn from service on December 26 during a ceremony at Ouvda Air Force Base in southern Israel. Upgraded C and D variants of the fighter will continue to play a role in the Israeli air force, even as it begins receiving its new F-35 stealth fighters. Israel’s Defense Ministry has announced that it will now try to sell the retired fleet of F-16A/Bs to interested second-hand buyers. The Netz flew some 335,000 flight hours and participated in 13,000 operational sorties, including Operation Opera, the 1981 Israeli air strike against the under-construction Iraqi nuclear reactor.
On January 2, the German Navy announced that three more class 332A minehunter vessels will be modernized, bringing the total number of upgraded minehunters to eight. The modernization process involves replacing current command-and-control systems with the Integrated Mine Countermeasure System, as well as improvements to the ships’ control mechanisms for various mine hunting drone platforms. Two minehunters that have not been upgraded will be used as mission platforms for mine clearance divers. In keeping with this, Avascent Analytics’ data indicates that the market for mine warfare vessels in Germany is shrinking rapidly. Despite this rapid shrinkage, however, over half of the market remains open to new business.
On December 30, the French Air Force ordered 17 PC-21 training aircraft from the Swiss aircraft company Pilatus, edging out Leonardo’s M-345 trainer and Aero Vodochody’s L-39 Next Generation trainer in the competition. Pilots with the French Air Force will train on the PC-21s before making the transition to the Rafale fighter jet. In 2015, France announced that it would seek to replace the air force’s Dassault Alpha trainers under “Project Cognac.” The country currently has 91 Alpha trainers in their inventory, though they will begin to retire in 2019. Avascent Analytics estimates that the procurement of the new trainer aircraft will begin in 2018. It is unclear how much France paid for the procurement of the PC-21s, but Pilatus announced that the full order of 17 aircraft from France, two from Jordan and two from Qinetiq amounted to $293 million in total.
As of January 1, the United Kingdom assumed all responsibility for NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which is part of NATO’s enhanced NATO Response Force (eNRF). The latter was designed at the 2014 Wales NATO Summit to strengthen the NATO’s collective defense strategies. Also known as the “spearhead force,” it consists of 20,000 personnel and includes Land, Air, Maritime, and Special Forces components. The UK will contribute about 3,000 personnel to the force, and its 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade will provide the VJTF Land division with resources to ensure its operation as a rapidly deployable and effective multinational fighting force.
Relations between China and the Philippines have warmed significantly since the election of President Duterte in June 2016. In December, China agreed to provide the Philippines with a grant of $14.4 million for the purchase of Chinese small arms. This announcement comes in the midst of the Philippines’ ongoing examination of a $500 million low-interest, long-term loan package from China for the purchase of Chinese military equipment. Items of particular interest, in addition to small arms, include fast attack boats, night vision equipment, and communications equipment, which will be used in Philippine President Duterte’s ongoing campaign against drug traffickers and insurgents. A final list of desired items is still being determined. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said his aides would visit China in 2017 to inspect weapons and equipment that the Chinese are willing to offer.
The Philippines Department of National Defense has reopened a tender for six close air support (CAS) aircraft. The tender is valued at $98 million, and the favored contender is the Embraer Super Tucano. Beechcraft, Elbit Systems, and Korea Aerospace Industries are also expected to be in the running. The new CAS aircraft would replace their aging OV-10 Bronco aircraft. The Philippine Air Force’s modernization plan, called “Flight Plan 2028,” calls for a number of aircraft acquisitions in the next five years. These include long-range maritime patrol aircraft by 2017, heavy lift transport helicopters by 2019, early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C) by 2020, and multirole fighters by 2021.