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Monthly Defense News Recap: March 2022

This week’s Quwa Premium article is a recap of some defence news items from around the world. Besides a basic overview of the news, this article also offers short-form analysis of each issue.

Pakistan Showcases its New Military Equipment

On 23 March 2022, Pakistan showcased its newly inducted hardware from China as part of its national day parade. The most notable of these new additions included the J-10CE ‘Dragon’ fighter aircraft, VT4 main battle tank (MBT), HQ-9/P long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, SH-15 self-propelled howitzer (SPH), and YLC-18A multi-mission radar. This is on top of previously acquired systems, such as the JF-17.

Overall, while the event reaffirmed Pakistan’s traditional reliance on Chinese equipment for its workhorse or mainstay equipment, it also established a new shift. Pakistan is now looking to China for new, cutting-edge systems too. The induction of the J-10CE clearly spoke to this shift when Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, drew a parallel between this new jet and the induction of the F-16 in 1983.

While a shortage of accessible Western options played a part, China’s far-reaching technology advances, especially in critical areas like gas turbines and electronics, is also driving Pakistan’s shift. China is perhaps the only other power (aside from the United States) that can design and product a modern fighter aircraft using only its own research and development (R&D) and industry base. Moreover, China’s industry as well as R&D bases are strong enough to drive the creation of next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA).

Thus, China’s ability to produce weapon systems is advanced, if not peer-level with the United States and Europe in some key areas, such as drones. As a result, Pakistan has found a direct replacement to the U.S. in China when it comes to sourcing both workhorse and marque equipment. Regarding the latter, Pakistan got its newest multi-role fighter and long-range SAMs from China.

This new dynamic basically secures Pakistan’s ability to source modern weapons. The only constraint now is Pakistan’s ability to finance this hardware. Currently, it seems that China is providing accessible vehicles to facilitate procurement (e.g., installment-based payment). Moreover, the pricing is generally lower than that of analogous Western equipment. Thus, Pakistan might be in a position to undertake a significant or wide-reaching recapitalization of its inventory across air, land, and sea-based platforms.

That said, while China will supply most of Pakistan’s equipment, the Pakistani military is still working with in-house programs and other countries. The most notable of the latter is Turkey, which carried out a major sub-system upgrade of Pakistan’s French-origin Agosta 90B submarines. The first upgraded submarine, PNS Hamza, test-fired a torpedo as part of the Pakistan Navy’s recent Sea Spark exercise.

Finally, in terms of homegrown systems, Pakistan showed the Shahpar-II medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone and the Ra’ad-II air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). Regarding the latter, Pakistan revealed that the Ra’ad-II had a range of 650 km, making it a significantly improved version of the Ra’ad family.

It seems that Pakistan is approaching its defence needs through three core tracks: First, leverage China to source mainstay equipment (e.g., tanks, howitzers, etc). Second, collaborate with Turkey (and potentially some other countries) to develop original solutions to specific requirements, e.g., the Jinnah-class frigate. Third, tap into domestic R&D to address niche areas that Pakistan cannot necessarily fulfill through market or off-the-shelf sources, such as ALCMs (e.g., strategic weapons).

India Starts Thinking of Replacements for Su-30MKI and MiG-29

In an interview, the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Chief of Air Staff (CAS), V.R. Chaudhari, said that the IAF is ‘processing’ replacements for its ‘deficient’ Su-30MKI and MiG-29 fighters. Today, the Su-30MKI and MiG-29 form the workhorse of the IAF fighter fleet. However, they are also aging, and it is no surprise that the IAF has a replacement program on its roadmap for both systems.

That said, it would be interesting to see how current affairs impact how the IAF approaches both fighters from this point on. First, the U.S. (i.e., India’s key defense partner) has shown that it wants to isolate Russia by not only sanctioning it directly, but also by pressuring countries to reduce (if not wrap up) their defence acquisitions from Moscow. Second, Russia is no longer on the cutting-edge of most conventional weapons R&D. Yes, it has programs that speak to upcoming trends (e.g., the Su-57), but compared to the Chinese, it is clear that the Russians are not making rapid progress in developing and operationalizing their projects. In all likelihood, China will deliver an exportable NGFA into a customer’s hands before Russia.

These two factors will likely galvanize the IAF to look away from Russia for its future requirements. In fact, India has two marque in-house fighter programs in the works: the AMCA NGFA as well as 4.5+ generation TEDBF/ORCA. Moreover, there is always the possibility to procure additional Rafale or, potentially, Boeing Super Hornet or Silent Eagle-based fighters. It will be interesting to see how India balances its indigenous programs with the flexibility of importing Western aircraft. The latter could (via offsets and collaboration) help drive the development of the former as well.

Baykar Makina Starts Manufacturing MIUS UCAV

Baykar Makina, a privately-owned Turkish defence contractor, announced that it is manufacturing its first MIUS unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV). The MIUS’ official name is now the Bayraktar Kizilelma.

The Bayraktar Kizilelma is one of Turkey’s marque drone program. Baykar Makina designed the Kizilelma as a larger strike-capable platform. It will offer a payload of up to 1,500 kg, which can support both air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions, including ALCMs and other stand-off range weapons (SOW).

However, the distinguishing feature of the Bayraktar Kizilelma is that it will operate from Turkey’s landing helicopter docks (LHD), starting with the TCG Anadolu. This is significant because succeeding in this field will make Turkey the second country to operate a jet-powered UCAV from sea and, potentially, the actual first to do it from an LHD. Seeing how Turkey opened the door to using drones in conventional warfare, it may open a wellspring of possibilities with naval UCAVs. Thus, the Bayraktar Kizilelma’s success could lead to significant developments or shifts in how countries use drones.

That said, the Bayraktar Kizilelma will likely be an option for the Turkish Air Force’s loyal wingman needs as well. It is unclear if Turkish Aerospace Industries is developing a jet-based UCAV or if Baykar Makina is the leading contractor for supplying this solution. Thus, the Bayraktar Kizilelma is destined for a significant production run regardless of whether the Turkish Navy can adopt it or not.

Baykar Makina is also developing a larger variant of its successful TB2 MALE drone, i.e., the TB3. Turkey is planning to use the TB3 from its LHDs as well.

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