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NEWS IN BRIEF – REST OF THE WORLD

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06 Nov 19. Rosoboronexport delivers $11bn of defence equipment in 2019. So far in 2019, Russia’s state defence export company Rosoboronexport has supplied equipment worth some $11bn and signed more than 800 contracts, it announced on 1 November.

‘Rosoboronexport continues to strengthen its positions in the world arms market. Irrespective of fierce competition…’ said Rosoboronexport’s director general Alexander Mikheev. ‘Simultaneously, the portfolio of orders of the company keeps at the level of nearly 50bn dollars, which guarantees the load for Russian defence industry enterprises for several years ahead,’ he added.

Summarising this year’s activities, Rosoboronexport said that it had started to promote foreign sales of a number of news military systems that will potentially become ‘bestsellers in the world market’. These systems include the Su-57E multipurpose fifth-generation fighter and the latest versions of Mi-28 and Mi-171 helicopters that have been modernised after combat evaluation.

This year, Rosoboronexport also offered to foreign customers the new Russian multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) Tornado-S, and new missiles including the Club-T and the Rubezh-ME coastal tactical missile system

‘In 2019 Rosoboronexport continued to strengthen its image of a reliable partner, a dynamic and flexible company, ready to run business effectively even in conditions of immense pressure from the part of competitors. We introduce successfully those financial arrangements, which make our cooperation with partners independent from unfavourable external conditions,’ added Alexander Mikheev.

‘This brings positive results. Despite sanctions, we have completed supplies of all the components of the S-400 air defence missile systems to Turkey ahead of time, and created and launched the first world’s joint venture on production of the Kalashnikov assault rifles of the “two hundred” series in India.’ (Source: Shephard)

06 Nov 19. US seemingly confirms potential for Aussie B-21 participation. A little over a month ago, Defence Connect revealed what at the time seemed like a slip of the tongue by the head of the US Air Force’s Global Strike Command, General Timothy Ray, regarding the potential for allied participation in the B-21 strategic bomber program – now it appears that potential is closer to reality than first thought.

For Australia, the retirement of the F-111 platform, combined with the the limited availability of the Navy’s Collins Class submarines, has left the nation at a strategic and tactical disadvantage – limiting the nation’s ability to successfully intercept and prosecute major strategic strikes against air, land and sea targets that threatened the nation or its interests in the sea-air gap, as defined in the 1986 Dibb review.

The growing debate about Australia’s tactical and strategic force structures, combined with the underlying paradigm shift away from a purely ‘defence force’ towards a more traditional, ‘armed force’ style of defence strategy has, in recent days prompted retired Air Marshal Leo Davies and his immediate predecessor, Air Marshal (Ret’d) Geoff Brown to call for greater Australian long-range strike capabilities.

While the acquisition of the Super Hornets in the mid-to-late 2000s and the acquisition of the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to fulfil a niche, low-observable limited strike role have both served as a partial stop-gap for that lost capability, the nation has not successfully replaced the capability gap left by the F-111.

Additionally, there were recent announcements about Australia’s pursuit of an advanced remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) as part of the AIR 7003 program and the advent of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System – designed by Boeing in collaboration with Defence Science and Technology – to enhance the air combat and strike capabilities of the Royal Australian Air Force.

The acquisition of the Reaper-based RPAS, MQ-4C Triton, and development of the fighter-like Boeing Airpower Teaming System all serve niche roles as part of a broader and increasingly complex air dominance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and close-air support strike mix – neglecting the critical long-range strike capabilities once filled by the F-111.

Australia is not the only nation facing a growing shortfall in its long-range aerial strike capabilities as the Cold War-era fleet of American strategic bombers, namely the B-1 Lancer, the B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit all entering the realm of obsolescence despite years of modernisation and upgrades – further compounding the survivability of these platforms is the advent of advanced Russian and Chinese air defence systems.

In response, the US Air Force and industry partner Northrop Grumman have initiated the B-21 Raider program to replace the ageing strategic bomber fleet of the US Air Force with a focus on responding to the rise of these advanced integrated air defence systems.

Like it’s immediate predecessor, the B-21 is designed to be a low-observable, penetrating strategic bomber capable of a prompt conventional or nuclear global response.

Cost overruns present opportunities for Australia

In recent decades, even the US has had to face significant cuts to its military expenditure across research and development, acquisition, sustainment and modernisation, and the new B-21 program is no exception, as the US Air Force has steadily increased the planned number of airframes to be acquired, the cost has equally risen, placing increased pressure on existing and future acquisition programs.

The US Air Force currently has plans to acquire 100 B-21s to operate in conjunction with a fleet of 75 B-52s that will be modernised. However, as the Air Force surges towards an ambitious plan to field 386 squadrons, up 75 from its current strength, will translate to an increased fleet of B-21 aircraft, with additional strategic experts in the US calling for a larger fleet of between 50 and 75 additional Raiders.

This growing number of new, costly platforms has drawn the attention of the head of the US Air Force’s Global Strike Command, General Timothy Ray, who has made thinly veiled comments about America’s allies, raising questions about the potential for allied participation in the B-21 Raider program to ease the economic and strategic burden on the US.

“Only the United States flies or builds bombers among its allies and partners. The last foreign squadron retired in 1984,” he said.

This concern has been identified by Ben Packham of The Australian, referencing the US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, who said the US would “look favourably” on an Australian request to participate in America’s long-range strike aircraft program – namely the B-21 Raider.

Secretary Ross reportedly told Packham, “We have no intention of vacating our military or our geopolitical position but we would be delighted to sell Australia more aircraft if that’s what suits your Department of Defence.”

The precedent already established by the collaboration between Defence Science and Technology and Boeing on the development of the “loyal wingman” concept provides avenues for Australia to partner with defence industry primes and global allies to develop a long-range, unmanned, low-observable strike platform with a payload capacity similar to, or indeed greater than, the approximately 15-tonne payload of the retired F-111.

The US has developed increasingly capable long-range, low observable unmanned platforms, including the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel; the highly secretive Northrop Grumman RQ-180 high-altitude, long-endurance, low observable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; and Northrop Grumman’s X-47 series of carrier-based, low observable strike platform.

Meanwhile, BAE Systems has successfully developed and tested the Taranis unmanned platform at the Woomera Test Range as a proof of concept for future collaboration and development – each of these individual platforms provide a unique opportunity for Australia to collaborate with a global industry prime and a global ally to fill a critical capability gap for each of the respective forces.

Such a capability would also enjoy extensive export opportunities with key allies like the US and UK, who could operate the platform as a cost-effective replacement for larger bombers like the ageing B-52H Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit, and complement the in-development B-21 Raider long-range strategic bomber – even drawing on a common airframe, avionics and engine suite to enhance interoperability while reducing supply chain challenges.

For the UK, the co-development and participation in such a system will fulfil a unique role – complementing the air-to-air and air-to-ground strike capabilities of the Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a low-observable, long-range, heavy strike aircraft to counter the rapidly modernising bomber fleet of an increasingly resurgent and assertive Russia.

Similarly, Australia needs a credible, long-range strike option capable of replacing the lost capability of the F-111 to penetrate increasingly advanced and complex integrated air defence networks and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems rapidly developing in the Indo-Pacific region.

The introduction of such a system could also support the development and eventual modernisation of the US B-21, which is being developed in response to the increasing air defence capabilities of both Russia and China, particularly the widespread introduction of the S-300 and S-400 integrated air and missile defence systems.

Deputy Opposition Leader and defence spokesman Richard Marles reinforced the need for a more robust Australian response, telling The Australian: “[The government would] ignore air marshals Davies and Brown at its peril. Not only do we need the right strike force, it is essential that our defence forces are fully resourced to properly support that strike capability. We must have the most capable and strategic defence force possible.” (Source: Defence Connect)

05 Nov 19. French arms firm Thales to appeal Zuma corruption charge ruling in S. Africa’s top court. French defence firm Thales (TCFP.PA) said on Tuesday it would ask South Africa’s highest court for permission to appeal an October ruling dismissing its request to have charges that it bribed former President Jacob Zuma permanently dropped.

Thales is accused of agreeing to pay Zuma 500,000 rand ($34,000) annually for protection from an investigation into a $2bn arms deal in 1999.

The charges against Thales and Zuma were originally filed a decade ago but then set aside by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), paving the way for Zuma to successfully run for president in 2009.

The charges were reinstated in March 2018 by the NPA following appeals and lobbying by opposition parties and local anti-corruption groups. In mid-October the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed an application by Zuma and Thales for a permanent stay of prosecution and set a provisional trial date of Feb. 4, 2020.

“Thales confirms that on 1 November 2019 it applied to the Constitutional Court of South Africa for leave to appeal the High Court’s decision which dismissed its challenge to the lawfulness of the decision to reinstate charges against it,” the French firm said in a statement.

Zuma has also said he will appeal the decision, meaning the trial would likely begin only in late in 2020.

Thales’ local public relations firm did not immediately reply to an email sent by Reuters seeking details of the argument it would make in the appeal application.

Thales, known as Thompson-CSF in 1999, has consistently argued that it has no knowledge of any transgressions having been committed by any of its employees in relation to the awarding of the contracts. (Source: Reuters)

04 Nov 19. Indonesia eyes American F-16 jets as it moves to secure Russian Su-35 deal. Indonesia is looking to acquire two squadrons of new F-16 fighter jets from the United States, even as it pushes ahead with plans to buy Russian Sukhoi Su-35s, according to the chief of the Indonesian Air Force.

In remarks carried by state-owned national news agency Antara on Oct. 28, Air Marshal Yuyu Sutisna said the southeast Asian nation plans to submit a request to buy two squadrons of Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 72 fighters by January 2020.

Sutisna said the F-16 acquisition will be part of Indonesia’s next five-year strategic plan, running from 2020-2024, Antara reported. The officer made the announcement during a visit to Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau Province on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra.

He did not elaborate on the exact number of F-16s Indonesia plans to buy, as that will depend on how much money the government can set aside for the acquisition, which will be collected separately from the already allocated defense budget of $7.7bn.

Sustina also said Indonesia is still pursuing the Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker interceptor, although that effort has encountered several delays. The Su-35s are earmarked as a replacement for Indonesia’s Northrop F-5E/F interceptors, which are no longer in service.

The already-protracted contract negotiations with Russia are further complicated by Indonesia’s concerns over CAATSA, an American law that could apply a variety of sanctions to individuals and organizations that engage in “transactions with the intelligence or defense sectors of the Russian Federation.”

Indonesia is seeking 11 Su-35s from Russia and hopes to pay for these with both cash and the exchange of a variety of local commodities.

Indonesia’s Air Force operates Su-27SKs and Su-30MK2s acquired earlier this decade from Russia. Indonesia has a policy of diversifying its arms purchases to reduce over-reliance on a single source of supply.

The island nation also operates earlier versions of the F-16, with 18 single-seat F-16Cs and five two-seater F-16Ds delivered under the Peace Bima Sena II program. The jets are used by the Air Force’s 3 and 16 squadrons alongside Block 15 F-16A/B aircraft, of which eight were acquired in the 1980s.

The F-16C/Ds are former U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard aircraft that were in storage and subsequently offered to Indonesia in 2011 under the U.S. Excess Defense Articles program. Indonesian Air Force engineers are locally upgrading the F-16A/Bs with assistance from Lockheed Martin.

The 24 jets were upgraded with the installation of a new modular mission computer, Link 16 data links and a self-protection suite under a Foreign Military Sales package worth $750m before delivery to Indonesia, although one was subsequently destroyed in a fire in 2015 after running off the runway during its takeoff roll. (Source: Defense News)

04 Nov 19. Malaysia’s littoral combat ship project faces MYR1.4bn cost overrun, delays. Key Points:

  • The delivery of Malaysia’s first Maharaja Lela-class littoral combat ship has been delayed to 2023
  • The troubled programme is also facing a cost overrun of about MYR1.4bn

Malaysia’s Maharaja Lela (Gowind)-class littoral combat ship (LCS) programme is facing a cost overrun of about MYR1.4bn (USD340m), and the project will be delayed by several more years.

The matter was revealed by Malaysia’s Minister of Defence, Mohamad bin Sabu, in a reply to questions from parliament on 29 October. “The first ship is now delayed by 34 months, and this is a very long time”, said Mohamad, in a transcript of parliamentary proceedings retrieved from the Malaysian Hansard.

According to the minister, the LCS contract with Malaysia’s Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) came into force on 3 October 2013, and is effective until October 2023 with a stipulated spending limit of MYR9.1286bn for all six ships.

However, as of 30 September 2019, the contract is only 55.7% complete, when it should be 78% complete, said Mohamad. “[BNS] has informed us that there will be a delay in the physical delivery of all six ships, and there are also additional costs of MYR1.4bn,” he added.

“This is the problem we are facing, if we were to terminate this project. We have already paid MYR6bn. If we want this to continue, we will have to allocate more funds,” said the minister, who assumed the defence portfolio in May 2018 after the previous government was defeated in shock election results.

“There are lots of problems faced in this project and if these were to be discussed in detail, there might be a loss in confidence in the capabilities of our local companies in Malaysia,” said Mohamad. (Source: IHS Jane’s)

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