The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 6.7.17
On May 25, Seiler Instrument and Manufacturing was awarded a $15.5 million contract to supply India with 145 optical fire control kits for its M777A2 howitzers. Deliveries are expected to be completed by May 2022. India cleared the $737 million purchase of the M777A2s in 2016, with 25 units purchased off-the-shelf and the rest to be produced domestically. Indian claims the howitzers will be used to reinforce the country’s border with China. BAE will partner with Mahindra Group to set up a manufacturing facility in Delhi, fulfilling a 30% offset requirement. The M777A2s are India’s first artillery procurement in three decades. Despite numerous attempts over the years, India has not purchased new howitzers since a scandal involving Swedish-based Bofors AB in 1986. Two guns arrived in India this week, and will begin testing at a firing range in Rajasthan.
On May 27, the Brazilian military announced the delivery of two more Helibras H225M helicopters, with one going to the Army and the other to the Air Force. Currently, another two H225Ms are expected to be delivered by the end of the year, and a total of 50 will be delivered by 2022. The procurement of the 50 H225M helicopters is worth $2.5 billion. According to the president of Helibras, the company is on track to meet its delivery deadlines for the Brazilian armed forces.
Switzerland could procure as many as 70 or as few as 20 new fighter jets according to a series of scenarios laid out by a Swiss defense ministry task force examining how to replace Switzerland’s aging fleet. Switzerland’s current F/A-18s and F-5s are set to retire in the 2020s. After voters rejected a proposed acquisition of 22 Saab Gripens in 2014, the Swiss government began preparing a second attempt to purchase new combat aircraft. The most expensive of the options presented by the task force would be 55-70 new combat aircraft for an estimated $15.3-$18.4 billion. The least expensive option would be to buy only 20 new fighter aircraft and extend the service lives of the F-18s to extend their lifecycle into the 2030s for an estimated $5.1 billion. The task force recommended that the government choose an aircraft by 2020 and request acquisition funds in the 2022 defense budget.
Following Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan’s announcement prioritizing the modernization of two Canadian helicopter fleets, the CH-146 Griffon and the CH-149 Cormorant in early May, Leonardo has teamed up with IMP Aerospace and Defense to create a consortium to bid on the CH-149 Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) program. The consortium, known as Team Cormorant, also includes General Electric Canada, Rockwell Collins, and CAE. According to the 2016 Canadian Defense Acquisition Guide, the MLU would extend the service lives of the rotorcraft until 2040, focusing on avionic systems and incorporating an infrared search capability onto the CH-149. The estimated value of the upgrade ranges from $378.7 million to $1.13 billion.
On June 1, Australia announced it would spend over $75 million on small unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The $75 million program will go towards the acquisition of the Wasp AE micro-UAS. Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne also mentioned a future purchase of similar systems within the next decade. On June 2, the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group also issued a Request For Information for UAS that could operate from Australia’s upcoming offshore patrol vessels, frigates, and new Hobart-class destroyers. The Navy already purchased the Schiebel S-100 for testing and evaluation purposes, but Australia does not yet have an extensive fleet of unmanned aerial systems. However, these two purchases supplement the approximately $2 billion expected to be spent on acquiring seven MQ-4 Tritons, and lays the groundwork for Australia to develop a robust range of unmanned ISR capabilities.
On May 31, Stratolaunch revealed its massive carrier aircraft for the first time. The firm, backed by Paul Allen, moved the aircraft out of its Mojave hanger in advance of ground and flight tests. Measuring more than 117 meters from wingtip to wingtip, the plane weighs nearly 250,000 kilograms when fueled and is the largest in the world. The plane’s size makes it suitable for launching small satellite payloads with a second stage booster and is scheduled to conduct launch demonstrations by early 2019. Avascent Analytics projects that the global launch market could support around 40 dedicated smallsat launches in 2019. However, Stratolaunch’s success is not guaranteed, as its air delivery system is untested and faces competition from launch providers using traditional delivery systems.