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 »

Israeli attack on Iran ‘unlikely’ this year

Another moment of this week’s Military Balance 2012 launch picked up by the press has been IISS CEO John Chipman’s analysis that Israel is unlikely to launch a military strike on Iran this year. In this two-minute video, he explains why he has reached this conclusion.

Charting the shift in defence spending

Much of the press coverage of yesterday’s launch of the Military Balance 2012 has focused on the continuing shift in relative military strength away from the West and towards Asia. Many reporters have understandably honed in on the fact that Asian defence spending is set to overtake Europe’s this year, for the first time in modern history. Here are some of  last year’s raw figures.

Figure: Comparative Defence Statistics (click for larger view)

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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What will Russia say today to Syria?

This seems to be the sound of failed UN diplomacy: the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs under fire days after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution calling on President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power and allow for free elections. With much criticism of Russia’s veto, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has just arrived in Damascus, in the hope of launching a new Russian diplomatic initiative to stem the violence.

‘After being hammered so much by so many other countries, they [the Russians] need to regain some of their lustre, and … prove they aren’t whitewashing Assad’s crimes and oppression,’ IISS Middle East Senior Fellow Emile Hokayem, tells today’s Wall Street Journal.

However, at a discussion meeting at Arundel House yesterday, our Mideast analyst said that Russia had lost credibility among the Syrian opposition and there were doubts about whether it could broker a deal. He added that there were ‘big questions about what kind of message’ the Russians were going to have for the Syrian government. ‘If you’re very cynical you think that the Russians are going to tell them: “Do it as quickly as you can, use as much firepower as you need, and be done with this.”

‘But I assume even Russian intelligence estimates are that Assad is on very shaky ground. … More probably the Russians will ask Assad to give them something so that they can tell the world that Russia can deliver – it’s not all [about] obstruction at the Security Council, it’s also able to leverage its own influence with Assad to obtain some of those domestic reforms; we’re talking about a few constitutional changes, the promise of elections, new political parties law and so on.’

Meanwhile, Ankara has announced its own diplomatic initiative ‘with those countries who stand by the Syrian people, not the regime’.

‘Whether the Turks are confident with that role, and how overt or covert it is, are key considerations,’ Hokayem said.

Watch the full discussion above, also with IISS’s Dr Dana Allin, Brigadier Ben Barry and Adam Ward.

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.

Watch the discussion

Where the road ends, the Taliban begins

As international security forces prepare to depart from Afghanistan, the latest Adelphi book examines the country’s ability to tackle its security problems, overcome corruption and revive its devastated economy. The government faces daunting challenges, ranging from insurgency and cross-border terrorism to the difficulty of reconciling Taliban figures and combatants into a political settlement. It must also cope with persistent regional instability, with its neighbours tempted to step up their interference in Afghan affairs.

The book also contains a chapter dedicated to maps and infographics explaining key demographic, military and economic issues. In this free sample map, we show how the international community has worked together to help develop Afghanistan’s transport infrastructure despite the ever present threat of IEDs and insurgent attacks.

‘For those of us who care about the importance of Afghanistan and worry about its future and thus for our own safety, this book makes fascinating and essential reading.’ Lord Robertson, former Secretary-General of NATO 

The book will be launched in London on Wednesday January 11 at 12.30-13.30.  Read more

America’s new strategic guidance

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announces the new defense strategy. DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett By James Hackett, Editor of The Military Balance and Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace

It is a nervous time for the US military and defence-aerospace industry. The US’ new strategic guidance document released last week, entitled ‘Sustaining US leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense’, set out plans to resize US forces for smaller-scale operations. The extent of cuts will not be clear until the president’s budget submission at the end of January but the guidance provides us with an insight into the strategic context within which these decisions will be made.

With the Pentagon planning for over $450bn in cuts over the next ten years, it was widely expected that the review of defence priorities would reflect ‘a moment of transition’ for the US military. Beyond the need to meet the savings noted in the Budget Control Act, the end of the US military presence in Iraq, the drawdown in Afghanistan, the death of Osama Bin Laden and continuing actions against al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been major drivers in the rethink of strategic priorities.

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