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Monthly Defense News Recap – March 2023

The defence industries of Türkiye, South Korea, and India are all making progress by developing weapon systems for their respective national militaries.

Türkiye’s Altay Main Battle Tank Ready for Armed Forces Testing

Turkish automotive manufacturer, BMC Otomotiv Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş., officially lifted the covers off a new prototype of the Altay main battle tank (MBT).

Currently, BMC is calling the new variant the “Yeni Altay” or New Altay.

According to BMC, the Yeni Altay incorporates a number of improvements across its armour system, fire control system, fuel and hydraulic pumps, and other areas. It also features an active protection system. It is a different design from the original prototype unveiled in 2014.

BMC’s chief executive officer (CEO), Murat Yalçıntaş, revealed that the company will deliver two prototype Yeni Altay MBTs to the Turkish Armed Force (TSK) for testing. The TSK is expected to complete testing by 2024 and, in turn, BMC could start manufacturing the Yeni Altay by 2025.

The first tranches of the Yeni Altay will use a South Korean engine. However, BMC is planning to configure the tank with the indigenously developed Batu V12 turbodiesel engine from 2026. The Batu V12 will be a 1,500 hp design capable of 4,600Nm of torque.

Otherwise, a significant – and growing – proportion of the Yeni Altay draws on Turkish R&D efforts. These include electronic subsystems, armour, hydraulic systems, cooling systems, and much more.

BMC Defense’s General Manager, Mehmet Karaaslan, revealed that a rescue and mine-clearance vehicle based on the Altay MBT is also under development.

In addition, BMC is also developing the Altuğ, a new 8×8 armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) for the TSK, and the next-generation Firtina-II self-propelled howitzer (SPH). The latter is a further development of the K9-based Firtina SPH which Türkiye had built under license from South Korea.

Arguably, the Altay was the first of Türkiye’s flagship indigenous defence programs. It marked the start of Türkiye’s journey to produce key weapon systems of its own design. However, it also carried the recurring tale on the difficulty of relying on outside suppliers for key inputs, such as engines.

Türkiye’s had originally planned to source a MTU engine for the Altay, but problems between Ankara and Berlin led to a quiet ban on the supply of those engines to Türkiye. As a result, Türkiye embarked on a plan to develop its own engines; first with a foreign partner but, eventually, indigenously from the ground up.

This urgency began emerging in other Turkish defence programs, most notably the MMU next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA) and the T-625-series of utility helicopters.

India’s Latest Arms Procurement Run Favours Local Suppliers

On March 16, India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) greenlit $8.53 billion USD worth of new weapons for the Indian Armed Forces. Overall, the majority of the DAC approvals cover Indian Navy (IN) programs, specifically in terms of munitions for surface combatants and new shipborne helicopters.

The approvals included, among others, 225 additional BrahMos supersonic-cruising missiles (for the IN’s Project 15B destroyers and Project 17A frigates); 60 naval helicopters to be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL); 155 mm/52-caliber Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAGS) to be co-produced by Bharat Forge and Tata Advanced Systems; and Long-Range Stand-Off Weapons (LSROW) for the Indian Air Force’s Su-30MKI multirole fighters. In addition, the DAC also cleared the development of a locally designed ship engine – i.e., the Medium Speed Marine Diesel Engine.

India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) emphasized that all of the DAC-approved programs will be “made under the Buy (Indian-Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured) category.”

While New Delhi wants to centrally involve India’s defence industry in the country’s arms procurement, it still wants to leverage foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEM). The centerpiece of this strategy is the ‘Strategic Partnership’ model which pushes Indian vendors to collaborate with foreign OEMs when bidding for key Indian military programs. However, the model has not caught on with every key program; for example, HAL continued promoting the local Dhruv for the IN’s requirements rather than partnering with an external OEM to co-market and co-produce the latter’s design.

Indeed, the domestic industry base’s continued investment in designing complete products (e.g., the HAL Twin-Engine Deck Based Fighter or TEDBF) contrasts with the Indian military’s interest in foreign arms (e.g., Dassault Rafale M or Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet). It will be worth observing how India aligns or synchronizes the two directives into a productive manner; if left unchecked, the competing dynamics can lead to delays, especially in key – but big-ticket – areas like new fighter aircraft.

Korea Aerospace Industries’ KF-21 Fighter Nears Closer to Production

Korea Aerospace Industries’ new KF-21 Boramae multirole fighter continues to cross key milestones along its development track. This month, KAI announced that it carried out a successful test flight of a prototype configured with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

According to the Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the KF-21 could reach the combat viability stage six months ahead of the original schedule.

Plans are reportedly underway to start mass-producing the KF-21 in 2024 and, in turn, achieve a delivery date for some time in 2026. Considering that the first KF-21 prototype first flew in July 2022, a four-year turnaround from maiden flight to initial production is impressive.

“Through more than 140 test flights, we have demonstrated the KF-21’s performance of initial flight stability, supersonic flight, AESA radar detection accuracy and weapons,” said DAPA.

The KF-21 is a twin-engine medium-weight multirole fighter. KAI terms it as a ‘4.5 generation’ design, but it has low-observable (LO) design attributes similar to emerging fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). It is believed that KAI is developing an improved variant of the KF-21 with internal weapon bays.

South Korea is developing the KF-21 with the aim of gradually replacing the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) F-4s and F-5s. In addition, KAI is partnering with Indonesia to co-produce the KF-21 for the latter’s needs and market to third-party users across the world. The KF-21 could draw interest from the Gulf Arab states, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and others.

KAI is also proposing a carrier-borne version of the fighter, i.e., the KF-21N. However, it is unclear if that project would ever materialize as South Korea had stopped funding its CVX aircraft carrier program. Thus, the KF-21N may potentially require an outside customer to bring the design to fruition.

Interestingly, KAI is also reportedly planning to expand its more entry-level offerings through a single seat variant of its F/A-50 Golden Eagle. The latter is a lightweight multirole fighter based on the T-50 advanced jet trainer. It recently secured major orders from Poland and, potentially, Malaysia.

The KF-21 and F/A-50-series will give KAI a complete portfolio for air forces with a variety of needs. In fact, KAI can provide an end-to-end stack comprising of a basic trainer, advanced trainer, lightweight multi-role fighter, and a twin-engine, medium-to-heavyweight fighter. These solutions may be the more affordable aircraft in the ‘Western’ world from a technology standpoint, a major niche that the top Western suppliers are increasingly less involved in recent years and, especially, in future.

Pakistan’s JF-17 and J-10CE Fleets Continue Growing

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) quietly added the JF-17 Block-3 and a new batch of J-10CE fighters to its fleet.

Today, the two platforms headline the PAF’s ongoing modernization push by adding active-electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S), PL-10E off-boresight air-to-air missile (HOBS AAM), and PL-15E beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) integration to the fleet.

The J-10CE and Block-3 form a ‘high-low’ mix that share key subsystems and weapon systems (e.g., HMD/S and AAMs). The PAF is poised to procure additional aircraft of both types through the rest of this decade to supplant its remaining legacy fighters, like the Chengdu F-7P/PG and Dassault Mirage III/5.

Besides providing an improved air-to-air capability through AESA radars, new electronic countermeasures (ECM), and high-tech AAMs, the new fighters may also form up the PAF’s air-to-surface strike capabilities. The PAF could pair the fighters with its growing line-up of precision-guided munitions, like the Taimoor air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) and AZB-series of stand-off range weapons (SOW).

The PAF ordered 50 Block-1s, 62 Block-2s, 26 twin-seat JF-17Bs, and 30 Block-3s. However, it had planned on acquiring 50 Block-3s, but as of 2021, only officially committed to 30 units. In either case, the PAF’s JF-17 fleet falls in line with its original plans for 150-200 aircraft. The next key milestone for the JF-17 would be its long-term upgrade path and, specifically, if the PAF will equip older variants – especially the Block-2 and JF-17B – with AESA radars, HMD/S, and PL-15E/PL-10E AAM integration.

The PAF inducted the J-10CE in April 2022. It did not reveal how many J-10CEs it ordered from the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). However, the PAF does not induct a new fighter type without a long-term plan to acquire a sizable number of units. Past examples – e.g., the F-16, Mirage III/5, F-7, and JF-17 – all show that the PAF typically plans for at least 75-90 units of any new fighter type it orders.

 

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