Behind the Mali headlines, an issue of airlift

RAF C17 Transport Aircraft. Photo MoD under an Open Government Licence

By Douglas BarrieJames Hackett and Henry Boyd, Defence and Military Analysis Programme

Two weeks after sending troops to Mali to repel an advance by Islamist rebels, France has enjoyed much tactical success. French and Malian forces have retaken Timbuktu and Gao, and are now reported to have reached the last Islamist stronghold, Kidal. The main challenges ahead include sustaining these gains, bolstering the Malian military and improving governance.

But these tactical achievements come despite a continuing fragility within some French military capabilities: the limited availability of so-called ‘air platform force enablers’ in general, and a paucity of strategic airlift in particular. This general shortfall afflicts many other European countries, and in the case of strategic airlift is only now being fixed.

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Europe odds-on to supply new UAE fighters

Eurofighter Typhoon over Dubai Photo BAe Systems 2012

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace

The end of this year could well be marked by the sale of a European fighter to a Gulf Cooperation Council state: Oman. A long-awaited deal may well be concluded for Muscat to buy 12 Eurofighter Typhoons to complement its existing fleet of US-built F-16s. With US and European defence budgets under pressure for the foreseeable future, combat aircraft manufacturers are pursuing any export opportunity with increasing vigour. And there remains the tantalising possibility for the four Eurofighter nations – Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK – of a larger order in the United Arab Emirates.

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Merger collapse: bad for both BAE and EADS

BAE Systems Typhoon FGR4

BAE Systems Typhoon FGR4. Photo Credit: Flickr/Ian D

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace, and Alexander Nicoll, Director of Editorial

National political constraints have caused the collapse of the planned merger of two of Europe’s main aerospace and defence companies, EADS and BAE Systems.

The deal foundered despite what the two companies said was the ‘sound industrial logic’ of the proposed deal. Following negotiations involving the British, French and German governments, the two companies said on 10 October: ‘It has become clear that the interests of the parties’ government stakeholders cannot be adequately reconciled with each other or with the objectives that BAE Systems and EADS had established.’

They had intended to create a company with the size and spread of the US’s Boeing, centred around the Airbus civil aircraft maker but with a strong presence in the global defence manufacturing market. This, indeed, had been the goal of different British, French and German governments as long ago as 1997. On that occasion, an all-British defence merger got in the way of a plan to create a European aerospace and defence champion.

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Grim watch at Farnborough: How far will defence spending fall

Farnborough International Airshow

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace

The ebb and flood of transatlantic defense relations has long been in evidence at the Farnborough air show, at the political and industrial level both. A question on the minds of many of the more than 100,000 daily attendees will be just how low the spending tide could eventually drop, as Washington’s interest is now focused firmly on another ocean while Europe flounders in debt.

The 2012 show is the aerospace and defence industry’s first full opportunity to come together since the U.S. administration’s revised strategic guidance outlined ‘re-balancing’ toward the Asia Pacific, while sustaining its commitment in the Middle East. Europe, for more than half a century the preoccupation of US defence interest, also became the subject of a “strategic opportunity to re-balance.” In keeping with the general tenor of the defence debate in Europe this is certain to be in terms of a withdrawal. Read the rest of this entry »

Britain does U-turn on F-35 jet decision

F35-BBy Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace, and Christian Le Miere Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

It seems to have been a case of ‘decide in haste and repent at leisure’ for Britain’s government, which this week changed its mind on the version of F-35 jet to buy for the UK’s next aircraft carrier – reverting to the model chosen by the previous administration that it previously pilloried as the wrong choice.

The Conservative-led government overturned Labour’s choice of the F-35B (pictured)  – a vertical take-off and landing (STOVL) aircraft like the Harrier jump jet it was designed to replace – as part of its Strategic Defence and Security Review in October 2010. It decided to switch to the conventional take-off and landing F-35C, and to equip one of two new aircraft carriers under construction with the catapult and arrestor equipment needed to launch and recover it.

Shortly before Britain controversially began a decade with no carrier strike capability, Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that the new aircraft carriers ordered by Labour were ‘unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France’. He added that the F-35B jets Labour chose to fly off the carriers were a ‘more expensive and less capable version of the Joint Strike Fighter’.

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Going ballistic: Asia’s missile-happy week

North Korean Security Challenges: a net assessmentBy Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace

It has been a rough week for the Missile Technology Control Regime. On the MTCR’s twenty-fifth birthday, on 16 April, North Korea paraded a previously unseen long-range ballistic missile through the streets of Pyongyang and showed off some kind of unmanned system. Days later, South Korea was saying it had deployed an extended-range variant of its ground-launched cruise missile, and India had successfully test-fired an Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile. Perhaps the MTCR’s only lucky day recently has been Friday the thirteenth, when North Korea’s Unha-3 satellite launch vehicle failed shortly after launch.

The MTCR keeps a low profile and so far hasn’t publicly marked its twenty-fifth. It was set up in 1987 by the United States and six other countries to try to curtail the proliferation of rocket, missile, unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAVs or ‘drones’) and technology capable of delivering a 500 kilogram payload at a range greater than 300 kilometres. If events on the Asian continent were inauspicious markers of the MTCR’s quarter-century, they were a reminder of the rationale for establishing the non-proliferation regime.

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A signal of ongoing cooperation

By Douglas Barrie Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace

Intelligence and nuclear collaboration are two pillars of the long-term defence relationship between London and Washington. Recent cuts in the UK military have raised questions about whether London can uphold up its end of the bargain. But US budget documents released last month show that the US and UK continue to collaborate in the particularly sensitive area of electronic signals intelligence, or SIGINT.

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Rafale’s gain is Typhoon’s loss in India

A Rafale. Base aŽrienne de Sigonella en Sicile. Photo: French Ministry of DefenceBy Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace

The omens were not good when Britain’s Minister for International Security Strategy, Gerald Howarth, led a defence trade delegation to India last week. Days before Delhi had chosen to buy the French Rafale fighter aircraft, instead of the Eurofighter Typhoon in which the UK is a partner.

The decision came five years after India began its quest for an extra strategic alliance to complement Russia in the combat-aircraft arena (releasing a request for proposals for a new fighter). The Rafale (pictured) was selected to meet the India air force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft programme for 126 fighter aircraft to replace its ageing MiG-21s. Delhi’s choice is reportedly based on the Rafale being less expensive; the overall cost of the acquisition may be around US$14 billion.

If completed, this will be a significant deal for Dassault as the first export sale for the Rafale – which for one reason or another has previously been left at the altar. For example, just when Dassault seemed on the brink of securing the United Arab Emirates as a customer in late 2011, Crown Prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed, in an uncharacteristic outburst, criticised the company for its ‘uncompetitive and unworkable commercial terms’. Dassault has also come tantalisingly close to a Rafale sale in Brazil, but none has yet been secured.

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Behind the latest Pentagon cutbacks

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace,  Henry Boyd, DMAP Research Analyst, and James Hackett, Editor, The Military Balance

Yesterday, the Pentagon made its latest announcement on the US defence budget, outlining proposed force cuts and procurement shifts, and setting the ground for the release of the FY2013 budget request in mid-February. This budget will carry the real detail, and will start the real battles in Congress. US President Barack Obama is trying to save $259 billion over the next five years, as part of a broader plan to cut $487bn over a decade of as part of deficit-reduction efforts. But in this election year, Obama faces the task of carefully cutting the armed forces without providing easy ammunition to the Republican opposition.

Elements of the changes had previously been trailed, most notably when Obama announced new strategic guidance earlier in January, with a shift of focus towards the Asia-Pacific region. The administration plans to reduce defence spending by cutting the size of its armed forces, while maintaining the qualitative edge to prevail in any major conflict in Asia-Pacific. Structuring and sizing the military to conduct ‘two wars’ simultaneously is also being revisited. The aim is now that if ‘engaged in a major combat operation in one theatre, we will have the force necessary to confront an additional aggressor by denying its objectives or imposing unacceptable costs’.

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NATO responds to shrinking budgets

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace, IISS

NATO defence ministers will use their 2-3 February meeting in Brussels as an opportunity to take stock of the Alliance’s ‘smart defence’ initiative, with the initial results of their work to be unveiled at the NATO Chicago Summit in May. Conceived as a response to both US criticisms of its European partners and the current squeeze on defence budgets, the initiative is intended to sustain NATO’s capabilities by means of greater multinational collaboration while allowing for more efficient defence spending.

Addressing the IISS in London on 19 January, Ludwig Decamps, Director of Strategy, Head of the Smart Defence Support Team, NATO, explained that the aim is to present ‘an ambitious but realistic package’ in Chicago. He identified ‘prioritisation, cooperation and specialisation’ as central components of the initiative now being pursued by the Alliance as it tries to maintain defence capabilities and sustain its relevance.

A task force has, said Decamps, identified 200 areas which would be suitable for either bilateral or multilateral programmes under the initiative. These include surveillance, unmanned aerial systems, and counter improvised explosive device development. This work is being refined with potential projects being grouped into ‘clusters’ including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, training, and sustainment.

Decamps said the Alliance had to ‘change the way [it does] business’, and, even more importantly, mindsets had to shift. ‘Multilateral cooperation should become the mainstream’ as the Alliance tries to sustain its capability, he contended. He recognised that multilateral procurement projects had a mixed record, and that this would need to be improved.

A further challenge lay in attempting to resolve concerns over national sovereignty and specialisation. He argued, however, that ‘specialisation is happening, whether we like it or not’, and pointed to numerous European member states that were already ‘salami slicing’ their capacity and readiness. ‘Specialisation by design’, said Decamps, would allow the Alliance to keep a coherent capability across the war-fighting spectrum.

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