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Monthly Defense News Recap – January 2023

Turkey has achieved a major milestone with its indigenous Hürjet trainer and is now working towards flying its first indigenously designed and developed jet fighter. Pakistan is progressing in its efforts to design and build original naval solutions. India’s Project 75 submarine continues to make waves with both a new ship and a plan to integrate an indigenous air-independent propulsion (AIP) system.

Turkish Aerospace Carries Out Test Run of Hürjet’s Engine

On 02 February, Turkish Aerospace / Türk Havacılık ve Uzay Sanayi A.Ş. (TAI) announced that it successfully carried out the test-engine run of its Hürjet trainer. According to TAI, the test was a major milestone and that the Hürjet is nearing its maiden test flight, which is scheduled to take place in March of this year.

The TAI Hürjet is a next-generation lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) and lightweight multirole combat aircraft. Commissioned by Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) in 2017, the Hürjet was envisaged as a successor for Turkey’s aging T-37s in the advanced training and fighter conversion roles.

In terms of design, the Hürjet is comparable to the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50. In fact, both the Hürjet and the T-50 share the same turbofan model, i.e., the GE F404. Like the T-50, TAI is also developing the Hürjet as a lightweight fighter capable of deploying air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions.

While primarily designed for the Turkish Air Force, the SSB and TAI have also marketed the Hürjet overseas to potential export markets, especially those already engaged with the Turkish defence industry in other areas, like Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and others.

In 2022, TAI had homed in on Malaysia as its launch customer for the Hürjet outside of Turkey. However, the Malaysian Air Force favoured the KAI T-50. Thus, TAI is still seeking its first export user of the Hürjet.

While accelerating its development, the GE F404 could be slowing the Hürjet’s exportability, especially in countries that are sensitive to ITAR restrictions (i.e., U.S. regulatory input). Basically, the market is already flush with trainers and fighters powered by Western engines and subsystems – e.g., the T-50, Tejas, JAS-39 Gripen, and the Hürjet. Each one of the Western-oriented potential buyers of the Hürjet can opt from other – and more mature – solutions. The unique value proposition of the Hürjet does not stand out.

Thus, the main gap (which is arguably closing thanks to solutions like the JF-17 Block-3 and J-10CE) is the market of ITAR-free solutions. However, Turkey would have to secure and integrate an ITAR-free engine to support this market. Currently, this is not on Turkey’s foreseeable roadmap.

That said, export was likely not the primary goal of the Hürjet. Rather, the Turkish Air Force needed a new advanced/fighter-conversion trainer. Moreover, the SSB wanted to nurture TAI’s aircraft design capacity, especially in terms of advanced fast jets. The lessons learned during the Hürjet project went into the more advanced and capable MMU/TFX next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA).

Overall, the Hürjet is also a long-term program. Its development will not end once Turkey inducts it; rather, the platform will evolve. Turkey is heavily investing in gas turbines and other inputs for turbofan engines so, in time, it may eventually produce an improved Hürjet for the ITAR-free market.

Pakistan Lays Keel of Locally Designed Patrol Boat

On 28 January, the Pakistan Navy (PN) announced that Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW) laid the keel of the PN’s first “indigenously designed” gun boat/patrol boat.

This follows the steel cutting ceremony towards the end of last year. In October 2022, the PN announced that the Naval Research and Development Institute (NRDI), its in-house design bureau, steered the patrol boat program. However, several foreign partners, notably Swiftships, were also involved in the project.

The PN did not disclose the specifications of the patrol boat. However, the PN did reveal that the boat has a length of 38.8 m. Ships of that length typically have displacements of around 200 to 250 tons.

The boat seems to be equipped with a 25 mm Aselsan STOP remote-operated weapon station (RWS) on the bow, and an Aselsan STAMP RWS at the stern. The sensor suite seems to include a search radar and, possibly, electronic support measures (ESM) system.

Reportedly, the PN is planning to build upwards of 20 patrol boats. However, it is unclear if every one of these 20 ships will be identical or of this specific model. For example, the PN could potentially fulfill its 20-ship requirement with differently-sized and equipped ships.

Overall, the original patrol boat program speaks to a wider PN investment in sea-policing. In addition to a large number of patrol boats, the PN is also inducting larger offshore patrol vessels (OPV). It will be worth seeing if the growth in surface ships for patrolling also correspond with improved intercept, search-and-rescue (SAR), and VBSS (visit, board, search, and seizure) operations.

New Chinese Frigate Reportedly Breaks Cover

On 21 January, images taken by the Pleiades satellite system reportedly show China constructing its next-generation frigate at its Hudong Shipyard in Shanghai (via Tom Shugart).

According to Tum Shugart, an analyst and retired U.S. Navy officer, the new frigate appears to have a length of 147 m. This is longer than the Type 054A frigate, which is the mainstay frigate of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Shugart estimates that the new Chinese frigate could have a displacement of around 6,000 tons, which would be nearly 50% larger than the Type 054A.

It is unclear if the new frigate is based on the Type 054A or, which is becoming increasingly probable, start an entirely new frigate class. The latter is possible as the new frigate carries over 20 years of key changes and improvements to Chinese shipbuilding since the first Type 054A was launched.

It would make sense for China to design a new ship from the ground-up based on its latest expertise and technologies. Besides new weapon systems and sensors, the new frigates would also be able to deploy the Z-20, China’s next-generation naval helicopter.

It will be interesting to see if China also makes a variant of this new frigate available for export. While it would not be identical to the PLAN’s version, it could still be designed around China’s growing portfolio of export-ready surface-to-surface and surface-to-air weapon systems.

India Commissions its 5th Kalvari-class (Scorpene / Project 75) Submarine

On 23 January, the Indian Navy (IN) commissioned its fifth (of a total of six) Project 75 Kalvari-class diesel-electric submarines (SSK). Initiated in 2005, the Project 75 program comprised of six Naval Group (formerly DCNS) Scorpene submarines from France and built under license by Mazagaon Dockyard Limited.

Prior to its induction, the fifth Project 75 SSK – i.e., INS Vagir – undertook 11 months of sea trials. It is also the third Project 75 SSK to have been inducted by the IN over the past two years.

India’s next major milestone will be to pair its indigenously developed air-independent propulsion (AIP) system to the Kalvari-class submarine. India’s indigenous AIP is a fuel-cell-based system designed by Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL) in collaboration with numerous other Indian industry partners.

India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Naval Group signed an agreement to integrate the indigenous AIP to INS Kalvari in 2025. India is aiming to induct the retrofitted submarine by 2027. If the integration work and performance of the indigenous AIP are successful, the IN will consider refitting the remaining five Project 75 submarines with the same system.

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