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18 Jan 19. Thailand, Czech Republic pursue defence collaboration. Thailand and the Czech Republic have agreed to establish a working group with a view to setting up joint projects in the defence industry, the Thai Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.
Following meetings in Bangkok on 16 January between Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the MoD said the two countries were especially interested in developing military-aerospace ties.
According to the MoD the Czech government has stated an interest in investing in Thailand’s eastern seaboard: a region that the Thai government is promoting for foreign direct investment and economic development.
The MoD added that it was possible that Thailand could co-operate with the Czech Republic in supporting investment to develop an aerospace assembly plant and a centre to facilitate maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO). Other possibilities include developing a regional flight simulation training centre in Thailand and facilitating Czech investment in the commercial sector.
The MoD said the new working group will study potential programmes to support co-operation in such activities and other collaboration in research, development, and technology transfers from the Czech Republic to Thailand.
The Thai MoD made no mention of potential defence trade between the two countries. However, Jane’s reported in November 2018 that Thailand had expressed an interest in acquiring an undisclosed number of Czech-made Aero Vodochody L-39NG jet trainers/light-attack aircraft.
Jane’s also reported at the time that Babis was scheduled to visit Thailand in January 2019 to hold further talks regarding the potential sale of the L-39NG, which was formally unveiled in October 2018.
The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) currently operates 24 L-39ZA Albatros aircraft, some of which are being replaced by 12 Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50TH Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainers (LIFTs) ordered in 2015. The RTAF mainly uses the L-39ZA aircraft for light attack, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. (Source: Google/IHS Jane’s)
18 Jan 19. Northrop Grumman Prepares to Support RAAF Tritons. Australian firms stand to gain substantial work from the Triton unmanned aircraft program as the RAAF progressively rolls out an advanced capability to conduct long-range maritime surveillance. The first Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton aircraft isn’t expected to reach Australia until 2023 or later but already local firms are gaining work. Long-term sustainment will be all-Australian, while Australia will work with the US Navy on future development.
Northrop Grumman director of international programs for Triton Ed Graziano said there was a robust plan for Australian industry involvement in production of aircraft and in their long-term support.
Graziano said some industry partnerships were already in place for supply of components such as cables and sheet metal, which would be expanded to include electronic equipment, composites for airframe parts and sensors. “We are working with Quickstep, Qinetic, Daronmont, Ferra, Marand and others,” Graziano told Australian media last week. They will support not just the buildup and delivery of Australian aircraft and systems but also US Navy systems. We need to ensure we have a cost-effective solution for both Australian and the US Navy. We need to find the sweet spot where there is a technology and a capability that the (Australian) SMEs can take on to be able to provide either that work required or the sub-systems. We are going through that. “
The government finally announced in June last year that it would acquire the first of six Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high altitude long endurance (HALE) in a deal worth almost $7 billion.
Triton has been a long time coming. The government first disclosed an interest in a HALE capability close to two decades ago when Triton’s predecessor the Global Hawk made a record-breaking flight from the US to Australia in 2001. Triton flies at altitudes above 50,000 feet and can conduct surveillance of 2.5 million square kilometres of ocean on each mission, descending to take a closer look at items of interest. Triton will be based at RAAF Edinburgh in South Australia and operate in conjunction with the RAAF’s new Boeing P-8A Poseidon manned maritime ISR aircraft.
Although Australia is looking to a fleet of six Tritons, the initial approval was for a single aircraft plus all ground stations and infrastructure.
Graziano said Northrop Grumman planned to train Australian nationals to be able to support, operate and maintain the aircraft. “Once we deliver the aircraft to Australia, the sustainment starts at that point.”
There’s no mandated level of Australian industry involvement in the Triton program but Northrop Grumman did submit an industry plan.
Although Australia has announced it will buy Triton, nothing has yet been signed and Northrop Grumman hasn’t yet been contracted for long-lead items for Australian aircraft. Australia and the US Navy have signed a cooperative agreement for future development of Triton.
“We do also look at industry capability development as part of road mapping with the SMEs. We have had some dialogues with (Australia radar firm) CEA Technology…about sensor concepts and development.”
The US Navy plans to declare EOC (early operational capability) in the next few months, a slight delay following an incident in September in which one aircraft made a belly landing at the US Navy station at Point Mugu, California.
So far eight aircraft of the US Navy have been produced from the planned 68 aircraft. (Source: UAS VISION/Australian Aviation)
18 Jan 19. RSAF and DSTA Complete Technical Evaluation of F-16 Replacement. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) have completed their technical evaluation to select the next generation fighter to replace its F-16s. The F-16s will have to retire soon after 2030 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has been identified as the most suitable replacement to maintain the RSAF’s capabilities.
However, the technical evaluation also concluded that the RSAF should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet. In the next phase, MINDEF will discuss details with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to acquire the F-35 JSFs for Singapore’s defence capabilities.
(defense-aerospace.com EDITOR’S NOTE: Singapore’s selection of the Lockheed F-35 to replace its F-16 fighters is not a surprise, and was indeed widely expected. However, its decision to buy “a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and sustainability” was not, and is a clear demonstration that, like many others, Singapore is not convinced that the F-35 can deliver all that its manufacturer and the Pentagon have promised. Indeed, its decision to “fly-before-buy” – a process that the Pentagon disregarded for this and other troubled programs – is probably unprecedented for an export sale of combat aircraft in the post-war era. It will be interesting to see how the Pentagon will react to this unusual condition, what price it will charge for the evaluation batch, and how it will protect the aircraft’s classified aspects during its evaluation by a foreign power that may well not buy more.) (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Singapore Ministry of Defence)
17 Jan 19. Japan to cease in-country assembly of F-35 jets. Japan has confirmed it will not use in-country final assembly facilities for its next lot of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets. A spokesperson from the U.S. ally’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency, or ATLA, told Defense News it will instead acquire aircraft imported from overseas for its upcoming fiscal 2019 contract.
The ATLA spokesperson referred Defense News to Japan’s Defense Ministry when asked why Japan will stop local assembly and checkout for its F-35s. The ministry has yet to respond to inquiries.
However, the recent defense guidelines and five-year defense plan released by the Japan government in late December said the country wants to “acquire high-performance equipment at the most affordable prices possible” and “review or discontinue projects of low cost-effectiveness.”
The Japanese government earlier that month approved the country’s defense budget, which includes $612.35m for the acquisition of six F-35As for the upcoming Japanese fiscal year that runs from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.
The budget additionally allocates $366.12m for “other related expenses,” which include maintenance equipment tied to Japan’s F-35 program.
Japan has taken the local final assembly and checkout, or FACO, route since 2013 for the final assembly of F-35As it previously ordered. According to the ATLA spokesperson, the FACO facility, which is operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, will continue to carry out production work until FY22 to fulfill the F-35As contracted by Japan between FY15 and FY18.
Japan has struggled to sustain its local industrial base, with recently released defense guidelines acknowledging it needs to overcome “challenges such as high costs due to low volume, high-mix production and lack of international competitiveness.”
According to Japanese budget documents, the country agreed to purchase 24 of the F-35As, with each aircraft costing an average $144.2m, although the cost per aircraft has been on a downward trend, with the FY18 batch costing $119.7m each. (Both figures are based on current exchange rates and do not take into account currency conversion fluctuations.) In addition to the 42 F-35As, Japan has also indicated it intends to procure a further 105 F-35s, which will include 42 of the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant. The defense plan has called for the acquisition of 45 F-35s over the next five years, of which 18 will be F-35Bs. (Source: Defense News)
16 Jan 19. J-20 Variant May Be World’s First Two-Seat Stealth Fighter Jet: Report. China’s most advanced stealth fighter jet J-20 could be developed into a bomber, electric warfare (EW) aircraft and a carrier-based variant, Chinese military experts said on Wednesday as latest reports suggested a two-seat version of the warplane is under development. All current stealth fighter jets feature single-seat, so the potential J-20 variant might become the first two-seat stealth fighter jet in the world, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Wednesday.
On a highly digitalized future battlefield, large amounts of information can easily overflow the entire control panel of an aircraft. Having a second pilot and a second panel sharing part of the work will be advantageous, the report said.
Yang Wei, the chief designer of the J-20, said in March 2018 that the aircraft will be serialized and see its combat capability constantly upgraded, People’s Daily reported. The current J-20 is a basic version, and it is by design highly customizable, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday. Outfitting the warplane with a second seat allows it to play multiple roles in addition to winning air superiority, Song said, noting that the two-seat version can be further developed into a tactical bomber or EW aircraft.
Having variations that other countries do not possess will greatly expand the Chinese military’s capability in an asymmetric warfare, analysts said.
The US had a similar plan with its stealth fighter jet the F-22 due to its supersonic speed and potential to penetrate airspace without being detected. However, the FB-22, a tactical bomber version of the F-22, was axed in 2006 because the US Air Force wanted a strategic bomber instead of a tactical one, US media outlet the National Interest reported. Although the FC-31, another Chinese stealth fighter jet, is widely expected to become China’s next generation carrier-borne fighter jet, Song said that J-20 can also be modified to fulfill the role. Even if the J-20 does not make additions to its role, it will definitely see enhancements to its capability, as China has a tradition of upgrading its fighter jets with advanced technologies before moving on to an entirely new aircraft. An upgraded J-20 will have improved avionics and fire control systems, more powerful engines and more weapons payload, Song said. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Global Times)
15 Jan 19. Japan surges new weapons, military roles to meet China’s rise. Most Japanese military officials won’t name the potential adversary that has spurred rapid Japanese modernization across its ground, maritime and air Self Defense Forces, in a nod to sensitive diplomatic relations. But it’s not Russia that has spurred Japan’s recent commitment to purchase up to 147 F-35s, or moved Japan to produce the country’s first aircraft carrier since World War II. It’s not North Korea that’s caused Japan to rapidly train, for the first time ever, an amphibious assault brigade to seize or retake the Senkaku Islands to its southwest if they have to.
It’s China. But among many U.S. and Japanese military officials in Japan, it’s “a competitor,” or “that country.”
“We have some weakness to defending Japan, especially on the south west islands,” Maj. Gen. Shinichi Aoki, commander that Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, said. “So that’s why our Self Defense Force is now trying to set up a strong posture toward that country.”
Japan’s new amphibious rapid deployment brigade has 2,100 troops now and is on track to have more than 3,000 trained by March, Aoki told Military Times during a December visit to Okinawa.
The surge comes amid an intensifying internal discussion in Japan on what types of capabilities are allowed under Japan’s constitution, which “renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” By literal reading it seems to forbid Japan from maintaining forces at all, but in the 1950s Japan determined self-defense only was allowed.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruling KDP party have pushed for a rewrite of that Article 9 clause to wording that says the Self Defense Forces are constitutional. But Japan’s constitution has never been amended, and political analysts who spoke with Military Times and other visiting reporters in Japan through a trip sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA said it was unlikely Abe would risk the political capital on an Article 9 vote in the near future.
Instead, in some respects, Japan’s military is moving ahead — constitutional revision or not. From some military officials’ point of view, the changes are still about the defense of Japan and its interests in the Pacific, even if that means it is also about becoming a more expeditionary force that also looks out for its allies.
On board the Izumo, Japan’s three-year-old helicopter destroyer that will be converted to carry F-35Bs, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces briefed reporters on their expanding role, which calls not just for a regional presence in the East and South China Seas, but also for a regular presence off the coast of Djibouti. where China established a military base in 2017.
“We will never accept a compromise with any attempt to prevent us from keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open,” said Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces deputy director of plans and programs, Capt. Toshiyuki Hirata, without naming China specifically.
Other Japanese officials are more direct.
“Actually this trigger … to be straight out [is] China. The expansion of China. I think it’s clear,” said Keitaro Ohno, parliamentary vice minister for defense for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. “There is no need for us to operate such kind of aircraft carrier if we don’t have to respond to China in the Pacific Ocean.”
Those Japanese officials emphasized that they do not seek conflict with China, and some pointed to a recent warming of diplomatic relations between the two countries after the U.S. launched a trade war with China. But Japan’s Self Defense Forces are still responding to a rising number of Chinese military aircraft incursions, regular and expanded reach of Chinese warships, including submarines, and other activities that are irritants, such as the regular presence of Chinese civilian fishing craft lingering by the Senkakus.
Japanese defense officials call them “little green fishermen.”
“It’s just … face to face that we are smiling, but under the table that we are some sort of, like, kicking each other,” Ohno said.
On Tuesday, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a new assessment of China’s military power and concluded that the sheer numbers of advanced ships, forces, aircraft, satellites and missiles China has fielded over the last 15 years has increased the risk it will engage in a regional conflict. However, it’s likelier that conflict would arise with Taiwan, not Japan.
“It’s obviously a different situation [than Taiwan] because Japan … has a significant capability to defend their territory,” a defense intelligence official said as he briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
“I think … neither side has an interest or an intention to escalate the conflict at this point, although there’s a lot of air and naval activity on a small confined space, so there’s always potential for something.”
In response to the increased activity by Chinese aircraft, Japan moved a second squadron to the military side of Naha Airport to be able to more rapidly sortie against aircraft incursions over Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone. In 2016, Japanese fighters sortied 1,168 times — 70 percent of those were against Chinese jets. The numbers for 2017 and 2018 fell a bit, but were an “unbelievable climb” from just a few years before, said U.S. Forces Japan commander Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez.
You can see the activity in person on Okinawa, where Japanese fighters take regular flight and have the primary responsibility for conducting intercepts in the South China Sea and East China Sea, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Case Cunningham, who commands the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base.
“Every time I fly out of Naha and see [Japan’s] 15s take off, it’s very likely they are headed out to an intercept of some type or other,” Cunningham said. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Military Times)
15 Jan 19. New defense intelligence assessment warns China nears critical military milestone. In recent years, top defense officials and internal Pentagon reports alike have cautioned about the rise of China as a military power, in large part due to its investments in high-end technologies like hypersonics and its development of indigenous capabilities like stealth fighters and aircraft carriers.
But it’s not a piece of hardware that’s most worrisome for American interests, according to a new assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Instead, it’s the worry that the Chinese service members behind each system have reached a critical point of confidence where they now feel that in combat, the People’s Liberation Army can match competitors. In the long term, that could be bad news for America — and especially for Taiwan.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday ahead of the new DIA 2019 “China Military Power” report, a senior defense intelligence official called the idea that Beijing might soon trust its military capabilities well enough to invade Taiwan “the most concerning” conclusion from the report.
“The biggest concern is that they are getting to a point where the PLA leadership may actually tell [President Xi Jinping] they are confident in their capabilities. We know in the past they have considered themselves a developing, weaker power,” the official said.
“As a lot of these technologies mature, as their reorganization of their military comes into effect, as they become more proficient with these capabilities, the concern is we’ll reach a point where internally in their decision-making they will decide that using military force for regional conflict is something that is more imminent,” the official added.
The report is the first public analysis of Chinese military power released by the DIA, and the official said there is no classified version of this production. The Pentagon annually issues a report to Congress on the issue through a different, publicly released document.
It is being released just days after Patrick Shanahan, the acting secretary of defense, used his first staff meeting to emphasize the Pentagon’s prime focus must remain on “China, China, China.”
Based on its assessment of Chinese official papers and statements, the DIA concluded that Chinese military modernization was not undertaken with a major global war in mind, but rather in preparation for further challenges to its regional efforts, potentially leading to a local war.
“Within the context of Beijing’s ‘period of strategic opportunity,’ as [China] continues to grow in strength and confidence, [U.S.] leaders will face a China insistent on having a greater voice in global interactions, which at times may be antithetical to U.S. interests,” the agency reported.
The reclamation of Taiwan is a long-standing goal for Chinese leadership, and Xi has made no secret of that desire. The DIA notes that much of China’s military modernization has been focused on Taiwan, including the emphasis on short-range missile technology that would largely be useless in any other theater of combat.
Keeping Taiwan safe at the moment is a belief inside the PLA that the armed service doesn’t have the training, doctrine and readiness levels needed for a full-scale invasion of the island. But should that change, the military has the technology and numbers at hand to make such a move possible.
“We don’t have a real strong grasp on when they will think that they are confident in that capability,” the official said. “They could order them to go today, but I don’t think they are particularly confident in that capability.”
Taiwan is not the only potential flashpoint identified by the DIA. While China is unlikely to seek out an active conflict near its territory, the official said, China’s construction of man-made, militarized islands in the South China Sea as well as its assertion of rights to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea could become points of tension.
But so, too, could China’s expanded interests around the world, the official warned, citing the PLA’s permanent base in Djibouti and willingness to sail ships farther abroad.
“We now have to be able to look for a Chinese military that is active everywhere,” the official said. “I’m not saying they are a threat or about to take military action everywhere, but they are present in a lot of places, and we will have to interact with them, engage with them, deal with them, monitor them more broadly than we had to before when they were very regionally focused near their own shores.”
While doctrine may lag behind, China’s investments in new technologies are starting to bear fruit.
In the more than 100-page assessment on China, the agency noted China’s continued modernization efforts of almost every aspect of its ground, sea, air and space forces.
The vast modernization effort — which includes the launch of its first independently developed aircraft carrier in 2019, the continued development of the Hong-20 nuclear-capable bomber and the emphasis it has placed in recent years on professionalizing its ground forces — has produced “a robust, lethal force with capabilities spanning the air, maritime, space and information domains which will enable China to impose its will in the region,” the DIA found.
Getting near par to American capabilities is one thing, but there are some areas where China threatens to surpass America — and may have already done so.
The first is with hypersonic weaponry — delivery vehicles capable of going Mach 5 or faster. In the last two years, the Pentagon has been increasingly vocal about the need to invest more in its hypersonic capabilities, both offensive and defensive, largely because of how much China has put toward the new weaponry.
“They are on the leading edge of technology in that area [and are] getting to the point where they are going to field this system,” the official said about hypersonic weapons, singling out hypersonic glide vehicles for ballistic missiles as the area in which Beijing has heavily invested.
More broadly, China remains a leader in precision-strike capabilities, especially with medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles — something the official partly blamed on the fact the U.S. and Russia were barred from developing such systems under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
China is also excelling at developing anti-satellite capabilities.
“In addition to the research and possible development of satellite jammers and directed-energy weapons, China has probably made progress on kinetic energy weapons, including the anti-satellite missile system tested in July 2014,” the report reads. “China is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and probably is testing on-orbit dual-use technologies that could be applied to counterspace missions.”
Said the official: “They’ve clearly been pushing forward on trying to build this comprehensive capability that can threaten U.S. and other satellites in all orbits, to build capability to threaten all these systems. … They think it’s a potential vulnerability for us and allied forces, although they themselves are becoming more reliant on space-based capabilities.” (Source: Defense News)
14 Jan 19. U.S. and Qatar Sign MOU Reaffirming Qatar’s Commitment to Supporting U.S. Military Activities at Al Udeid Air Base. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the Ministry of Defense of the State of Qatar signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concerning Qatar’s support of DOD activities at Al Udeid Air Base (AUAB) during the second U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue in Doha, Qatar Jan. 13. The MOU will help promote interoperability, support regional stability, and reaffirm the U.S.-Qatar defense relationship. It also represents a positive step towards the eventual formalization of Qatar’s commitment to support sustainment costs and future infrastructure costs at AUAB, which the State of Qatar proposed at the first U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue in January 2018.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Michael Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, jointly witnessed the signing ceremony. The Principal Director for Middle East Policy in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense Ms. Jennifer Zakriski and Brigadier General Fahad al-Sulaiti, Director of the International Military Cooperation Authority, General Headquarters, Qatar Armed Forces signed the MOU on behalf of their respective governments.
Separately, both the U.S. and Qatari delegations to the Strategic Dialogue hailed the many achievements in the bilateral military relationship in the past year, including joint exercises, U.S. ship visits to Doha, and the implementation of standard operating procedures designed to facilitate customs, immigration, and operational processes that will deepen the security and military partnership.
Since 2003, Qatar has hosted U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and Special Operations Command (SOCCENT) Forward Headquarters and U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) at AUAB, the largest U.S. military installation in the Middle East with over 11,000 U.S. and Coalition service members. AUAB has served as the primary staging ground for most air operations in the campaign to defeat ISIS.
The U.S. and the State of Qatar have had a longstanding and multi-faceted bilateral military relationship which is guided by shared goals to combat terrorism, deter criminality in the Arabian Gulf and promote regional security and stability. (Source: US DoD)
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