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Monthly Defense News – October 2023

Nigeria Receives First T129 Attack Helicopters from Turkey

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) delivered the first two of six T129 ATAK attack helicopters to the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). The remaining four aircraft are slated to delivery by the end of the first half of next year. Nigeria formally ordered the six ATAKs last year at the 2022 Farnborough Air Show.

Africa has emerged as one of Turkey’s key markets for selling its defence solutions, with Nigeria climbing to the top through the procurement of major platforms, like the ATAK. In addition, Nigeria also ordered a pair of 76 m offshore patrol vessels (OPV) from Turkey’s Dearsan Shipyard. The first OPV was launched on October 26. Nigeria also contracted Dearsan Shipyard to modernize its MEKO 360 frigate.

The NAF also acquired an undisclosed number (at least six) of Bayraktar TB2 combat drones from Baykar Technologies, adding to the company’s growing cadre of drone customers.

However, not only do these acquisitions speak to the growing presence of the Turkish defence industry, but it also reflects Nigeria’s growing focus on advancing its counter-insurgency (COIN) capabilities. In this sense, the NAF also inducted 12 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft and three AVIC/PAC JF-17 Thunder multirole fighters. The U.S. also greenlit the sale of 12 Bell Textron AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters.

Combined with the T129 and Bayraktar TB2, the NAF has a multi-layered close air support (CAS) and strike capability. The T129 and A-29s, for example, can provide CAS coverage for ground forces, reconnaissance, and anti-infantry as well as precision-strikes against fixed targets. When heavier munitions are required, the NAF can leverage the JF-17s with laser-guided bombs (LGB) and precision-guided bombs (PGB). Finally, the Bayraktar TB2 can support long-endurance intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), time-sensitive targeted strikes, and CAS operations.

Collectively, these procurements give Nigeria one of the more complex and capable COIN capabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, the JF-17 and T129 are also scalable in that through additional units, Nigeria can also build its conventional defence capabilities. The JF-17, for example, can leverage long-range air-to-air missiles and stand-off weapons, including air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM). The T129 is also an adept anti-tank/armour solution and can be configured with electronic countermeasures (ECM) systems, such as radar jammers, enabling it to operate in contested environments.

Saudi Arabia Reportedly Interested in Dassault Rafale Fighters from France

According to the French newspaper La Tribune, the government of Saudi Arabia requested a quote from Dassault regarding a potential purchase of 54 Rafale fighter aircraft. La Tribune verified the information from France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu.

The request does not necessarily signify that negotiations are underway or will take place. That said, a few geo-political dynamics could make this potential deal relatively tenable. The first – and, arguably, the most impactful – factor is Riyadh’s difficulty in gaining Berlin’s approval for a follow-on Eurofighter Typhoon deal to add to the 72 aircraft currently in service with the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). Technically speaking, it would make more sense for the RSAF to acquire additional Typhoons as it can leverage its existing support infrastructure. Procuring the Rafale would necessitate a net-new infrastructure base in terms of training, maintenance, and, potentially, air-to-air munitions. Cynically speaking, one can see Riyadh’s interest in the Rafale as a ploy to pressure the U.K. to move Germany towards approving a Typhoon deal, especially when both countries could benefit from the production output in terms of jobs and other economic activity.

On the other hand, a Rafale deal would be a major boon for France and Dassault in particular, effectively turning many of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) states into its customers. In fact, each one of the GCC states flying the Rafale would be a major user: Qatar has 36 units, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ordered 80 Rafale F4s, and a potential Saudi deal would result in 54 aircraft. Qatar has an option to acquire 24-36 additional Rafales as well. These contracts would extend the Rafale production line’s work further into the future and, potentially, drive more French government interest in developing a future Rafale variant.

Thailand Looks to Pivot S26T Purchase to a New Frigate Instead

On October 20, Thailand’s defence minister, Sutin Klungsang, announced that the country will shelve plans to procure one S26T submarine from China and, instead, seek a frigate instead.

“The submarine project is not scrapped, but will be shelved for a certain period,” said Klungsang to local media. “It will resume when the country is ready.”

Thailand had signed a $1.04 billion USD deal with China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC) in May 2017 for three S26T air-independent propulsion (AIP)-equipped submarines.

The launch submarine reportedly cost $430 million USD but suffered delays due to Germany’s refusal to release MTU 12V 396 SE84 diesel engines. The submarine’s steel was cut in September 2018 and was due for completion in 2023, but due to the lack of an engine, was pushed to 2024.

China had marketed the S26-series to both Thailand and Pakistan on the presumption that it would secure the MTU engines for both countries. The previous commander of the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), Admiral Choeingchai Chomchoengpaet, accepted China’s proposal to swap the MTU engines with its indigenously designed CHD620. The Pakistan Navy (PN) accepted the proposal for its Hangor-class submarine program.

However, the current Thai government did not approve of the move and, instead, pushed for alternative arrangements. Highlighting that it wants to maintain its ties with Beijing, the Thai government forward the RTN’s proposal to procure a new frigate in place of the S26T. According to defence minister Klungsang, the Chinese government was willing to consider the proposal.

Though China markets a range of frigate designs, the simplest route for the RTN would likely be to acquire an export version of the Type 054A frigate. China’s shipbuilding industry has extensive infrastructure and decades worth of experience with constructing that design, thus eliminating technical risks and, in turn, a new set of delays and cost overruns.

In terms of submarines, it is unlikely the RTN will pursue a Chinese platform after this experience. The Thai government insisted on sourcing German engines; thus, while controlling cost is a priority, Thailand wants to stick to certain technical specifications (e.g., key inputs, like engines, from the West). In lieu of a Western submarine, the RTN could potentially look towards South Korea.

Shaheen X: Modern Assets Drive Latest Sino-Pak Air Exercise

Between August 28 and September 20, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) carried out the 10th iteration of their joint exercise, Shaheen X. The PAF and PLAAF carried out the drill in Jiuquan in Gansu Province and Yinchuan in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Though multirole fighters and network-enabled assets like airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft had always been a part of the Shaheen exercise, this iteration stood out in several respects.

First, both sides brought only Chinese-origin fighter aircraft, i.e., the J-10CE and JF-17 on Pakistan’s side, and the J-16, among the PLAAF’s most advanced Flanker variant. Second, both sides were able to leverage the latest (albeit China’s) long-range air-to-air missile (LRAAM), high off-boresight (HOBS) air-to-air missile (AAM), active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, and electronic warfare (EW) technologies.

Not only did Shaheen X provide the PAF with dissimilar air combat training (DACT) exposure to the Flanker, i.e., the workhorse fighter of the Indian Air Force (IAF), but at a high technology level involving AESA radars, top-end AAMs, and other key subsystems, such as helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) systems.

Likewise, the PAF was also able to leverage these same elements across its own aircraft, thus providing the PLAAF realistic combat scenarios involving light and medium-weight fighters, and that too deployed by an air force with experience of Western air training and doctrines. For example, training against PAF J-10CEs and JF-17s could give the PLAAF insights of how it could deal with the F-16V and F/A-50 or F-CK-1.

In the future, one can expect these exercises to evolve further to entirely involve fighters with so-called 4+ or 4.5-generation capabilities and, potentially, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), dedicated EW or electronic attack (EA) assets, and other systems reflecting emerging environments in South Asia and East Asia. In other words, the bilateral drill would become a complex and extremely high-value space for those participating. China could consider leveraging its value by building closer defence ties with other countries by inviting them to participate in these drills.


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