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Monthly Defense News Recap – October 2022

The U.K. Puts 14 C-130Js Up for Sale

The U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) has officially put the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) 14 Lockheed Martin C-130Js (i.e., 13 C-130J-30s and 1 C-130J) Hercules transport aircraft up for sale. The RAF will retire its C-130Js by 2023 and, in turn, replace those aircraft with the Airbus A400M Atlas.

This move comes as part of a strategic move to consolidate its air transport and logistics fleet on a fewer key platforms, namely the A400M, Boeing C-17, and Airbus A330.

The RAF had ordered 10 C-130J and 15 C-130J-30s (the stretched variant of the C-130J with a fuselage that is 15 ft longer) in 1994. The first C-130J joined the RAF in 1999. Originally, the RAF was planning to phase its last remaining C-130J/J-30s by 2030, but this was shortened to 2023.

However, the RAF’s fleet-reduction plans are not without controversy. Not only would retiring the C-130Js and C-130J-30s reduce the RAF’s fixed-wing transport fleet by 23%, but it would totally eliminate the RAF’s dedicated ability for medium-weight, tactical-lift operations. Some analysts believe that the larger A400M is not an efficient way of replacing the capability loss that will emerge from retiring the C-130J/J-30s.

It will also be interesting to see which countries will seek these C-130s. Bangladesh acquired the previous batch of ex-RAF C-130Js. Thus, it might seek to build its Hercules fleet through these additional aircraft. In addition, the Indian Air Force (IAF) might be interested as it operates a near-identical type already.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has also been on the search for surplus C-130s. However, the C-130J and C-130J are different from the legacy models (i.e., C-130B/E/H) the PAF already operates. Thus, the C-130J-series would amount to a net-new acquisition should the PAF go that route. In all likelihood, the PAF will likely prefer acquiring additional C-130Hs as it could get more utility from its existing maintenance set-up.

Russia Leans on Iranian Loitering Munitions and Drones

In recent weeks, Russia has started relying on Iran for the supply of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). These include the Mohajer-6 tactical drone as well as the Shahed-136 and Shahed-131 loitering munitions.

The Mohajer-6 is reportedly a 600-700 kg drone capable of carrying certain precision-guided munitions, such as anti-tank missiles. Its primary purpose is intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), but it is capable of firing guided munitions when necessary. This drone is similar to the Turkish Bayraktar TB2.

However, the bulk of the news coverage is going towards the Shahed-131 and Shahed-136. According to Ukraine, the Russians have been using these loitering munitions to attack critical infrastructure, especially Ukraine’s energy grid. While Russia has been using the Shahed-series (renamed Geran) effectively, Kyiv is working to understand how to counter these specific models.

One thing Ukraine has noticed after dismantling several downed Shahed/Geran munitions is these drones largely use civilian-grade components or inputs. Thus, these drones are susceptible to electronic warfare and directed energy-based drone countermeasures.

Despite their technology limitations, these Shahed/Geran loitering munitions present strategic challenges in both Ukraine and, potentially, beyond. When using commercially available civilian-grade inputs, these types of drones also cost much less than some types of guided munitions.

Thus, Iran and Russia can manufacture and procure these munitions for a relatively low cost yet, at the same time, inflict high-cost damage (e.g., depleting an adversary’s energy infrastructure). This is the value proposition of loitering munitions (i.e., a low-cost munition that can inflict high-impact outcomes).

It is likely that loitering munitions will become a mainstay weapon for many militaries moving forward. In effect, this shift will drive widespread investment in Counter-UAV measures, especially from an electronic warfare (EW) and directed energy (DE)-based standpoint. Ukraine might become the testing grounds for such new systems and, in turn, accelerate the improvement of these solutions in the short-term.

Turkey Delivers First ‘GPS-Independent’ Drones

Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.Ş. (STM) announced that it has delivered the first tranche of KERKES unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).

The marque feature of the KERKES is that STM bills it as a “GPS-independent” system. Basically, the drone can determine its location without the use of satellite navigation (SATNAV) services. Instead, the KERKES uses pre-loaded maps combined with artificial intelligence (AI)-based deep-learning.

This is a first step. Ultimately, STM is aiming to develop a series of drones that can operate in environments that can jam/deny drones access to SATNAV. To achieve that, STM is working on ways to have the drone’s internal suite to process information (e.g., images, videos, etc) from sensors.

It is worth noting that the KERKES is among a growing number of Turkish defence applications leveraging AI and machine learning (ML). Others programs involving AI/ML include the Atmaca anti-ship missile, the Roketsan ALKA Directed Energy Weapon System (DEWS), and ULAQ unmanned surface vessel (USV).

New Pakistani OPVs May Hint at Major Air Defence Improvement

On 12 October, Damen Group laid the keel of the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) first Batch 2 offshore patrol vessel (OPV) and cut the steel of the second Batch 2 OPV.

Though a follow-on of the two Yarmouk-class OPVs the PN ordered in 2017, the Batch 2 ships are based on the Damen OPV 2600 design. This design is larger than the PN’s Batch 1 ships, which were based on Damen’s OPV 1900 platform. Moreover, the Batch 2 ships also seem to be markedly better equipped than the Batch 1 OPVs, especially in terms of anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-ship warfare (AShW).

The Batch 2 OPV design seems to be configured with a vertical launch system (VLS) that looks reminiscent to the Lockheed Martin Mk41 or MBDA Sylver. If the Batch 2 OPVs are equipped with either the Mk41 or Sylver VLS, it would be a significant breakthrough for the PN.

The PN selected the MBDA Albatros-NG/CAMM-ER (Common Anti-Air Modular Missile – Extended Range) for its forthcoming Babur-class corvettes and Jinnah-class frigates. Jointly marketed by Britain and Italy, the CAMM-ER has a stated range of at least 40 km. On ships, the CAMM-ER can be quad-packed onto the Mk41 or Sylver VLS. Thus, an 8-cell VLS system could carry 32 CAMM-ER SAMs, for example.

However, current design mock-ups of the PN’s Babur-class corvette and Jinnah-class frigate do not show the Mk41 or Sylver. Instead, the VLS used onboard these ships is the GWS-26, which does not have quad-packing capability. Thus, the SAM load of both the Babur-class and Jinnah-class is relatively light or sub-optimal. Quwa had surmised that the PN simply did not have access to the Mk41 or Sylver.

But with the Batch 2 OPV mock-ups ostensibly showing the Mk41 or Sylver, it is possible that the PN has now gained access to these systems. If accurate, then the Batch 2 OPVs will gain a relatively sizable AAW element through 32 to 64 SAMs (potentially the CAMM-ER). Moreover, this capability may carry forward to the Babur-class corvette and Jinnah-class frigate.

Finally, it seems that the PN will also equip the Batch 2 OPVs with a locally-built AShW solution. Analysts believe this could be either the P282 anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) or a supersonic-cruising missile. In any case, the Batch 2 OPVs will be armed with a 2×3 suite.

In 2020, the PN’s then Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Zafar Mahmoud Abbasi, said that the PN was in talks for six ships of “larger tonnage.” He had stated this after making a comment about the two Yarmouk-class OPVs. If taken at face value, the CNS at the time may have simply said that the PN was acquiring six additional OPVs, but of a larger design than the first two OPVs. It is possible that this is coming to fruition (i.e., six additional ships based on the OPV 2600).

However, the Yarmouk-class Batch 2 OPVs are also much more capable (especially in terms of AAW) than the Batch 1 ships (at least in their current state). Thus, if the PN is indeed acquiring a total of six additional OPVs, these ships could basically be as functional from a AAW and AShW standpoint as the Babur-class or Jinnah-class ships. Overall, the PN is aiming to operate 20 “major surface vessels,” but it is unclear how it categorizes these ships. These ships will include frigates, but if combined with the PN’s current roadmap for corvettes and OPVs, the “major surface vessel” fleet may exceed 20 ships.

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