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15 May 20. US on track to pull troops from Afghanistan despite turmoil. The United States is on track to meet its commitment to the Taliban to withdraw several thousand troops from Afghanistan by summer, even as violence flares, the peace process is stalled, and Kabul struggles in political deadlock.
U.S. officials say they will reduce to 8,600 troops by July 15 and abandon five bases. And by next spring all foreign forces are suppose to withdraw, ending America’s longest war. Yet the outlook for peace is cloudy at best. In the absence of Afghan peace talks, the Trump administration may face the prospect of fully withdrawing even as the Taliban remains at war with the government.
That has concerned some lawmakers, including Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee. She says the United States needs to keep a military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan to prevent extremist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate from forming havens from which to attack the U.S.
“Withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan won’t end the war — it will just let the terrorists win,” she told The Associated Press.
Some question whether the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 29, which the Trump administration billed as “a decisive step to achieve a negotiated peace,” was instead mainly a withdrawal agreement. President Donald Trump had campaigned on bringing troops home from foreign wars. And though the Afghan government publicly supported the deal, it did not participate directly in the negotiations and has not, in Washington’s view, capitalized on the chance for peace talks.
“President Trump promised to bring our troops home from overseas and is following through on that promise,” the White House said when the Doha deal was signed.
The deal stipulated that the Taliban would start intra-Afghan peace negotiations on March 10, but that has not happened. The Taliban and the Afghan government also have squabbled over a promised release of each other’s prisoners.
“A lot of this boils down to: Was the U.S.-Taliban agreement any kind of serious negotiation at all, or was it just totally a fig leaf to cover abject withdrawal? I suspect the latter,” said Stephen Biddle, a Columbia University professor of international and public affairs and a former adviser to U.S. commanders in Kabul.
“It gave away almost all the leverage we had in exchange for virtually nothing,” he added. “It looks very much like a situation in which the Taliban have concluded that the Americans are out, and they’re going to play out the string and see what happens when we’re gone.”
The United States has been the prime backer of the Afghan government since it invaded the country soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and overthrew the Taliban, which was running the country and harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. According to U.S. government auditors, Washington has committed $86bn to support Afghan security forces and is still spending about $4bn a year.
The Trump administration has expressed frustration with the lack of movement toward peace talks, but it has not threatened publicly to pull back from its commitment to fully withdraw. It did conduct an airstrike against the Taliban in defense of Afghan ground forces in early March just hours after Trump had what he called a good conversation by phone with a senior Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Although the drawdown is required by the Doha agreement, U.S. defense officials had said for many months that they wanted to reduce to 8,600 — the approximate number of troops that were supporting Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations when Trump took office.
American officials constructed the Doha agreement mainly as a way of ending U.S. involvement in the war, rather than as an assured path to peace. The withdrawal is subject to Taliban assurances, but it does not require a peace settlement.
The deal also is seen by the U.S. as a way to enlist the Taliban in the fight against the Islamic State group. The American military considers the group’s Afghan affiliate as a greater threat than the Taliban.
The U.S. agreed to withdraw not just military forces but also all intelligence agency personnel, private security contractors, trainers and advisers. NATO allied forces also are to withdraw.
The Doha deal was seen at the time as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace in decades of war, but the government has since been consumed with political turmoil. Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah have both declared themselves winners of last year’s presidential polls, and each declared himself president.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that getting out of Afghanistan would advance his aim of devoting more forces to the Asia-Pacific region to counter China, which he sees as the No. 1 long-term threat to the United States.
Esper has been skeptical of the Taliban’s commitment to peace, and on May 5 he said neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government is abiding by the agreement.
Esper said the Taliban should return to the reduced levels of violence that existed in the week before the Feb. 29 Doha signing. At the time, Ghani put his government forces in a defensive stance, but on Tuesday he ordered a return to the offensive, expressing anger for two attacks, including one that killed 24 people, including infants, at a hospital. The Taliban denied responsibility and the U.S. has blamed the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan for the attack. The Taliban on Thursday said it had carried out a suicide bombing as retaliation for having been falsely accused by Ghani.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, indicated the U.S. stance has not changed.
“Consistent with the agreement, the U.S. military will continue to conduct defensive strikes against the Taliban when they attack our (Afghan) partners.,” he said Wednesday. “As the secretary of defense stated recently, this is going to be a windy, bumpy road, but a political agreement is the best way to end the war.” (Source: Army Times)
14 May 20. China Deploys AEW, Anti-Submarine Aircraft on South China Sea’s Yongshu Reef: report. Recent foreign satellite images suggest that China has deployed early warning aircraft and anti-submarine aircraft on the Yongshu Reef in the South China Sea amid increased US military activities in the region, as Chinese experts said on Thursday that China has the right to deploy defensive weapons there according to military threats China is facing.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has deployed the KJ-500 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system and the KQ-200 maritime patrol aircraft, also known as the Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft, on the permanent base on the Yongshu Reef in the South China Sea, media in the island of Taiwan reported Thursday, citing satellite photos taken by ImageSat International on Saturday.
Previous satellite photos show aircraft hangars near the airstrip on the reef were installed with air conditioners, indicating military aircraft were ready for extended deployment, reports said.
The Taiwan media reports claimed this is an indication that the PLA is planning an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea.
The alleged PLA warplane deployment came at a time when the US has been frequently sending warships and warplanes, including an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship, destroyers, cruisers, bombers and patrol aircraft into the South China Sea since the start of the year, and even more after its aircraft carriers were hit by COVID-19 as the US attempted to show its military capability was not hindered.
Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told the Global Times on Thursday that while he cannot confirm the authenticity of these reports, it is within China’s scope of sovereignty that it enhances construction on islands and reefs in the South China Sea and deploys defensive weapons in accordance with China’s national defense needs.
Based on the seriousness of threats China is facing, China could take necessary defensive measures, Zhang said, noting that this conforms to international law. Following the approval of the State Council, the city of Sansha in South China’s Hainan Province announced in April the establishment of two new districts to administer waters in the South China Sea.
Xisha District is set to administer the Xisha and Zhongsha islands and surrounding waters, with a government located in Yongxing Island. Nansha District has jurisdiction over the Nansha Islands and its waters with a government located in the Yongshu Reef. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Global Times)
15 May 20. India Seeks Local Warplanes As Overseas Purchase Plan Stalls. India plans to switch to locally-made fighter jets, two years after asking global companies to submit proposals to supply 114 combat aircraft in the world’s biggest warplane [competition]. The country’s air force is finalizing plans to induct indigenously made Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas to boost the capability of its aging combat aircraft fleet, Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat said in an interview in New Delhi. It will buy an additional 83 jets, apart from an earlier deal for 40 aircraft, for $6bn, he said.
“The Indian Air Force is switching that to the LCA,” Rawat said, when asked about the global tender for jets. “The IAF is saying, I would rather take the indigenous fighter, it is good.”
The decision is a setback for the likes of Boeing Co, Lockheed Martin Corp and Saab AB who were in the race for the $15bn order, and another sign that India is abandoning costly foreign defense purchases which have been plagued by bureaucratic delays and a funding crunch. Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week stressed the need to buy locally made products to boost an economy battered by the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Since it has been decided to go the indigenous route, the ministry of defence must ensure ramping up” capacity at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, the builder of the jet, said Manmohan Bahadur, additional director general at the New Delhi-based Centre for Airpower Studies. “The IAF, like the other services, has to maintain the required edge over our adversaries — emotions have to be eschewed.” (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Bloomberg News)
14 May 20. South Korea launches investigation into engine issues involving RoKN’s PKX-B-class fast attack craft. The South Korean government has launched an investigation into engine issues involving four Patrol Killer Experimental-B (PKX-B)-class fast attack craft currently in service with the Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN). An RoKN source told Janes on 13 May that a broken engine cylinder head had been uncovered during a routine maintenance inspection of one of the vessels in late March, after which the same problem was found in the three other craft of the class.
The incident has prompted the Defense Agency for Technology and Quality (DTaQ) to launch an investigation to determine the exact cause of the engine problems, with the results expected to be out by late June, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
There seems to be some confusion, however, about the current status of the four boats. The Yonhap News Agency quoted an RoKN officer as saying that the broken parts “have been replaced and the boats are now operational but we concluded [that] additional measures were necessary to find the exact cause of the malfunction and prevent the same failure recurring [in order] to stably operate the boats”.
That said, the RoKN source speaking to Janes that same day said that least two of the boats, one in service with the RoKN’s First Fleet and the other operated by the Second Fleet, are currently at a shipyard undergoing repairs while the other two are at their respective naval bases but not operational. No further details were provided. (Source: Jane’s)
14 May 20. Thailand Cuts Defence Spending to Offset Costs of COVID-19. The Royal Thai Army (RTA) will defer its planned $138m (4.5bn-baht) buy of a second batch of 50 General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) 8×8 Stryker infantry carrier vehicles to the next fiscal year, local media reported quoting RTA chief General Apirat Kongsompong.
The army’s Ordnance Department had earlier proposed the acquisition, which includes armaments and associated technical support, as part of a broader US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) package comprising a total of 130 refurbished ex-US Army Stryker vehicles of varying models. The remaining 80 vehicles would be supplied under US military funding assistance.
In May 2019 the RTA had agreed to acquire an initial batch of 60 M1126 Strykers and M2 .50 calibre heavy machine guns, with 37 of these funded by Thailand for $91m (2.96bn-baht) and the remainder provided under US funding. The first tranche of two Strykers were delivered in late August, according to the US government’s Joint US Military Advisory Group Thailand (JUSMAGTHAI).
Thai Defence budget cuts
Thailand has slashed its 2020 annual defence budget by $555m (18bn-baht), with the funds contributing to a national stimulus package aimed at easing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic crisis.
RTA spokesperson Colonel Winthai Suvaree told the Thai News Agency on 22 April that the budget cut will also impact other ongoing or planned acquisition projects. The official did not go into details, but the army is believed to be seeking additional artillery and ground-based radar systems, as well as main battle tanks (MBTs).
VT4 Main Battle tanks
The service has taken delivery of up to 49 VT4 MBTs manufactured by state-owned Chinese firm Norinco. Thailand is the first export customer for the VT4, which is also known as the MBT-3000, and was developed specifically for the export market. The RTA had also earlier indicated opportunities for additional batches to replace its large fleets of ageing US-made tanks, including M41, M48, and M60 platforms which were acquired several decades ago. (Source: AMR)
11 May 20. First Japanese Ospreys arrive on home soil. The first Bell-Boeing V-22B Osprey tilt rotors ordered by Japan have arrived in their home country late last week, as the Asian nation continues to grapple with the dilemma of where to base the controversial aircraft. Two Ospreys with the markings of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, or JASDF, arrived at the joint U.S. Marine Corps-Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force base at Iwakuni, near the city of Hiroshima.
The Ospreys, carrying the serial numbers JG-1701 (91701) and JG-1705 (91705), were shipped across the Pacific Ocean on a commercial car carrier to the pier adjoining the air base. And according to local media, they will be assembled, checked and test-flown before flying to another location in Japan.
According to Bell, at least four of Japan’s Ospreys were ready for delivery as far back as 2018, although the saga of their basing kept the aircraft at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina prior to their delivery to Japan. Japan requested to buy 17 V-22B Block C Ospreys in May 2015 under the U.S. Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales program. Five were contracted two months later in July. The value of that contract was approximately $332m, according to Japanese Defense Ministry budget figures.
The ministry originally planned to base the Ospreys at an expanded facility at Saga, which is near the city of Nagasaki and bases Japan’s newly formed Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade. However, the regional government and locals bitterly opposed the move, citing the Osprey’s perceived lack of safety.
The deployment of the Osprey by the JGSDF and the U.S. military in Japan has faced long-running opposition by some of the local population, fueled by a narrative around the Osprey’s safety record due to a number of crashes and accidents during the aircraft’s early days.
The mere unloading and potential test flight of the Ospreys has already sparked protests by locals at Iwakuni against an increased footprint of the armed forces.
In response to the opposition, the Japanese government plans to temporarily base the new Ospreys at Camp Kisarazu, southeast of Tokyo. That location also bases Japan’s 1st Helicopter Brigade and a maintenance facility for Japan-based American Ospreys belonging to the Marine Corps and the Air Force. (Source: Defense News)
11 May 20. Sub construction confirmed for 2024 but contract detail questions remain. Rear Admiral Greg Sammut, head of the Royal Australian Navy’s SEA 1000 submarine building program, has revealed the construction commencement date for the multibillion-dollar program, however, questions remain about the contractual terms and conditions. There appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for Australia’s largest, most complex, strategically vital and contentious defence program, the multibillion-dollar SEA 1000 Attack Class future submarine program. Concerns about the suitability of converting a vessel designed originally as a nuclear powered fast attack submarine (SSN) for the French Navy, as the Suffren Class have long plagued Australia’s conventionally-powered, Attack Class submarines, particularly as the number of highly capable air-independent propulsion (AIP) and nuclear-powered submarines in the Indo-Pacific continue to climb.
Further complicating the highly-contentious programs is concerns over the capacity of Australian industry and delivery time frame to deliver the highly capable, “regionally superior” submarine platform promised to the Royal Australian Navy.
However, it has recently been revealed by Janes that there is a turning point in sight for the multibillion-dollar program, there is a construction start date, with additional information being shed on the terms and conditions of the contractual partnerships with Naval Group.
Speaking exclusively to Defence Connect, a Defence spokesperson has elaborated on the details surrounding the planned construction commencement date, the complex design program, build process and the tempo of delivery for Australia’s future submarines.
The Defence spokesperson explained to Defence Connect, “A key consideration regarding the Future Submarine Program for Defence remains the seamless transition from design to construction, noting this will be a progressive transition, rather than a fixed transition point.
“Based on the lessons learned from the Collins and Air Warfare Destroyer programs, progressive transition from design to construction allows for incorporation of lessons learned during the construction of the first submarine into the design, before construction of the next submarine commences.
“This approach is used widely in ship and submarine construction to gain efficiency and effectiveness benefits, often referred to as the ‘learning curve benefit’, as skills and expertise mature further.
“In manufacturing terms, ship and submarine construction would be classified as low-volume, high-variance in terms of customisation, with long lead times.
“In this type of manufacturing, it is important to strike the correct balance between maximising efficiency gained through the learning curve benefit, balancing workforce loading to maintain currency and competency, and inserting technology improvements to keep the end product aligned to the contemporary requirement.
“A phased approach to contracting across delivery of the fleet of submarines will allow Defence to achieve this balance.”
Risk minimisation remains a firm desire for Defence given the scale of the investment and the public attention paid to the highly-complex, strategically sensitive program, to this end, Defence has specifically designed the 25-year build phase with risk minimisation, modularity and ease of technology insertion as a core component of the Attack Class.
“Construction commencement as currently planned allows flexibility in the construction phase, to minimise the risk associated with building a new product, with a new workforce, in a new facility.
“This will provide confidence that the delivery date can be met. The progressive transition from design to construction will enable Defence to reach a mature design before being translated into work orders to produce sections of the submarine. This reduces the likelihood of rework caused by immature design, and assists in smoothing the demand of a skilled, competent and current production workforce.
“Further, given that the Future Submarine Program will be continually building Attack Class submarines for over 25 years, a phased approach to contracting for construction will allow us to take into account the availability of new and emerging technologies for incorporation into subsequent build batches.
“The rolling incorporation of technology into the Attack Class fleet will ensure that it remains regionally superior throughout all stages of its life.
“Defence does not want to predetermine the size of each batch at this stage, as any such decision should be informed by the need to adapt designs in line with technology advancement, benefits gained in terms of the performance of the submarine, costs to implement the change, and the potential loss of not reaping the efficiency gains from the learning curve.”
Also, in an interesting revelation, Defence has revealed that the first boat to commence construction will not serve as a ‘prototyping’ experiment and rather, will all be included into the future HMAS Attack as the lead ship. The Defence spokesperson explained:
“The first submarine will not be a prototype destined to be a display item after factory testing is complete: upon completion of ‘factory testing’ the first Attack Class Submarine (prototype) will commence a full life of service in the Royal Australian Navy as the first product off the assembly line.
Defence continues to account for the rapidly evolving geo-strategic environment emerging in the Indo-Pacific, and the growing proliferation of advanced submarine platforms, as well as growing proliferation of advanced anti-submarine platforms to ensure that the Royal Australian Navy has an adequate number of Attack Class to maintain the regional dominance the nation depends upon.
“As we learn throughout design and initial construction, we will look to evolve the pricing models employed in our contracts, reflecting the retirement of risks,” the spokesperson said.
To this end, the Defence spokesperson reinforced to Defence Connect, “Defence can increase the rate of delivery of the Attack Class submarine fleet subject to government considerations about the strategic environment, and taking into account Navy’s capacity to crew submarines.
“A nominal drumbeat of one boat every two years assists with industry-level loading; however, if strategic circumstances dictate otherwise, the rate of delivery could be increased.”
Naval Group’s Shortfin Barracuda design, which serves as the basis for the Royal Australian Navy’s new Attack Class, is a conventionally-powered variant of the nuclear-powered Barracuda fast attack submarine currently under construction for the French Navy.
The 12 vessels will be built by Naval Group at a specialist submarine shipyard at Osborne, South Australia. The Commonwealth government’s Australian Naval Infrastructure program will support the development of the future submarine shipyards.
The Commonwealth government formally signed the strategic partnering agreement with Naval Group in February 2019 ahead of confirming the final design specifications and requirements for the Attack Class submarines.
The Attack Class will enter service with the Royal Australian Navy at a time when 50 per cent of the world’s submarines will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region. (Source: Defence Connect)
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