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Archive for April, 2010

Russia Losing Valuable Arms Buyer as Chinese Defense Industry Ramps Up

Friday, April 30th, 2010

The Hudson Institute’s Richard Weitz, posting over at Second Line of Defense, says Russian arms sales to China are drying up as Chinese industry increasingly builds its own high-tech weaponry and Beijing objects to Russian technology transfer restrictions.

Since 2001, Russia has sold more than $16 billion worth of arms to China, with yearly sales peaking at $2.7 billion, he writes; accounting for nearly 40 % of all major Russian arms sales. In recent years, however, things have changed:

“Since 2005, the PRC has stopped purchasing Russian warships or warplanes and has ceased signing new multi-billion arms sale contracts… The director of Russia’s state-controlled arms export company, Rosoboronexport, recently forecast that the value of Russian arms sold to China could decline to as low a level as 10 percent of the value of all Russian military exports in coming years. Some defense experts believe that figure could fall even further.”

China now competes with Russia in lucrative international arms markets by offering Russian knock-offs at bargain prices, or, without the onerous restrictions often imposed by Moscow. “Chinese manufacturers are producing either more completely indigenous advanced weapons systems or more defense technologies, sub-systems, and other essential components that Chinese manufactures can insert directly into foreign-made systems.”

Chinese firms adroitness at reverse engineering foreign technology is well known. A case in point: the Chinese built J-11B fighter. Russia gave the Chinese the designs to the Sukhoi-27 fighter in 1995 after the Chinese agreed to purchase 200 kits to produce it under local license. In 2004, after building 100 planes, the Chinese cancelled the contract for the remaining fighters, claiming they no longer met Chinese requirements. Soon after, the knock off J-11B began appearing for sale on international markets.

– Greg Grant

Taliban Believe They’re Winning: DOD

Friday, April 30th, 2010

The declining security situation in Afghanistan has leveled off in many areas over the past three months, according to a Pentagon progress report to Congress. At the same time, overall violence in Afghanistan is sharply up, with an 87 percent ncrease over the seasonal average of the same period last year.

The report attributes increased violence to the stepped-up ISAF operations as more U.S. troops have arrived in Afghanistan. The 152 page April 2010 report, titled “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” covers the period from October 2009 through March 2010.

Insurgent attacks increased during 2009 and then peaked in August, just before the presidential elections. Most attacks are in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan.

“The insurgents perceive 2009 as their most successful year,” the report says. Higher levels of violence, poor turnout during the Afghan presidential elections and reports of Afghan government fraud contribute to a sense of success among the Taliban. While ISAF has seen some success in certain parts of Helmand, putting in place the Afghan government and security forces, the “hold and build” part of the COIN strategy, has been slow. The Taliban have re-infiltrated areas cleared by the Marines and are again intimidating the population.

I have a full write-up of the report over at DOD Buzz.

– Greg Grant

Navy Says NLOS-LS Cancellation Won’t Delay LCS

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

The Army is looking to cancel its costly and poorly performing “missiles in a box,” the Non-Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS). As we’ve noted, NLOS-LS was also intended to outfit the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), providing the vessel much needed long range, precision guided fires.

We asked the Navy if the Army’s cancellation of the NLOS-LS would have any impact on the LCS being declared combat capable, as the vessel needs some kind of long range fires to fulfill its surface warfare mission. Today, a Navy spokesman emailed over the following statement:

“The Navy is assessing options to fulfill the NLOS role in the surface warfare mission package. An inherent advantage of the modular designs for LCS and its mission packages is that a delay in one part of the overall program does not impact our ability to move forward in other areas and deliver combat capable assets to the fleet.”

– Greg Grant

Resource Wars: Notes From the CNAS Conference on Natural Security

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Any time you get famed counterinsurgency advisor David Kilcullen and global correspondent and author Robert Kaplan on the same panel you’re bound to get some international security goodness. Yesterday’s conference on the security implications of resource scarcity and climate change put on by CNAS in downtown Washington did not disappoint.

I think Kaplan goes a bit overboard on prepping for a war with China, but I think he has some good insight on why China and the U.S. will likely be butting heads for the rest of this century. For one, China’s voracious appetite for raw materials and its manic efforts over the last few years to lock down as many sources of the same. China’s strategic plan, which drives its mercantilist foreign policy, has a simple objective: to dramatically lift the standard of living of a fifth of the world’s population.

As hundreds of millions of Chinese move up the consumption ladder the country will need ever more quantities of basic inputs that come almost entirely from other countries. That thirst for resources is what’s driving China’s hegemonic ambitions in Asia; he sees a Chinese “Monroe Doctrine” developing in the South China Sea. China’s naval modernization and shipbuilding must be seen in that light.


What’s Strangling the CH-53K?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

By Craig Hooper
Defense Tech Naval Weapons and Warfare Analyst

The heavy-lift CH-53K helicopter was, until earlier this month, an outstanding example of procurement done right. But now—with little concrete justification beyond an “overly aggressive initial program schedule”—the Marine Corps has pushed the first flight back two years to FY 2013 and slid the initial operating capability (IOC) back by three years to FY 2018. While stressing the program has not run into technical problems, the rationale for slowing the CH-53K program has, at best, been poorly articulated.

Why slow the program? When delivered, the new fly-by-wire CH-53K will, in theory, transport 27,000 pounds of external cargo out to a range of 110 nautical miles, nearly tripling the thirty-year old CH-53E’s lift capability under similar environmental conditions–all while fitting under the same shipboard footprint.

The CH-53K will also provide unparalleled lift under high and hot conditions while maintainability and reliability enhancements to the CH-53K will decrease recurring operating costs over the current CH-53E (the CH-53K aims at a more reasonable $10,000 dollars per flight hour while the CH-53E costs twice that). Survivability and force protection enhancements will also increase protection dramatically, for both aircrew and passengers. What’s not to like?

The CH-53K was an unsung showpiece for those preaching the virtues of incremental development, and, as a result, appetite for the platform has grown by about 30 percent, with the program of record expected to increase from156 aircraft to 200.

But, in the process, the CH-53K has become something of a MV-22-killer. Is this the problem?


U.S. and South Korean Officials Say Nork Torpedo Sank Cheonan

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I’m not sure how this one will break. As Robert Farley over at the Information Dissemination blog says, the South Koreans probably knew the cause of the Cheonan’s sinking shortly after it went down, and for political reasons have been playing it cool. Very cool. We’ll have to see how this plays out, but I’m amazed at the measured rhetoric coming from South Korean officials.

STRATFOR’s take is that South Korea has limited military options because of Seoul’s well known vulnerability to North Korean rocket and artillery strikes and basic economic vulnerabilities that would result from a major dust up on the peninsula. Planned economic engagement with the north will almost certainly suffer, the private intel network says. An unintended consequence of the Cheonan sinking: an overdue modernization of the South Korean military, including new ISR assets and newer ships.

– Greg

SOUTHCOM Battles Drug Cartel Submarine Armada

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Latin American drug cartels continue to launch scores of semi-submersible, cocaine hauling submarines northward from jungle hideouts to feed insatiable U.S. drug markets. The fiberglass vessels, typically 60 to 70 feet in length and able to haul 10 tons of cocaine, are assembled in remote workshops, hidden deep in coastal mangrove swamps and even far inland in Colombia’s mountainous jungle. Powered by diesel motors, the subs travel by night and lay low during the day, almost wake-less, they are incredibly difficult to spot from the air.

How hard? During a recent exercise, a captured semi-submersible was towed behind a ship and planes and helicopters flew over to try and spot it from the air, but could not, said Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of Southern Command, speaking to defense reporters yesterday. The vessels are not true submarines; they’re built with a very low profile to the water, painted in various shades of blue to blend into the ocean, but with favorable currents they can travel up to 5,000 miles.

Fraser’s command has had success capturing the semi-submersibles. Drug cartels launched more of the cocainecows in 2008, when SOUTHCOM seized 76; last year 52 subs were either detected or disrupted. “That’s a one year data point, I don’t know whether that means the trend has fallen off or they’ve changed their tactics.” Most sub seizures came about through informant’s tips. They key is finding the jungle hideouts where the subs are built, because once underway, well, there’s a lot of ocean to scour. SOUTHCOM nets about 25 percent of the total drugs shipped north, Fraser said.

More and better aerial surveillance and reconnaissance is SOUTHCOM’s biggest need, he said, an aerial asset that can provide broad area maritime surveillance; sensors that could peer into jungle foliage would also be nice. “In the mangrove swamps in western Colombia you can be ten feet away from where somebody’s building a semi-submersible and never see it.”

– Greg

Osama Killer Missile Fails; No Conventional Tridents

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

By Colin Clark
Defense Tech Chief Pentagon Correspondent

Cruise missiles are highly accurate but they have to be fired from a distance and they take a fair amount of time to get where they are going. So they are great for fixed targets, but their limitations have left the Pentagon scratching its head for half a decade trying to find something that can be launched and hit its target anywhere in the world within an hour or so.

One of the key drivers behind this effort has been to develop a weapon that could kill a terrorist like Osama bin Laden anywhere in the world without having to send in special operators or deploy a big ship. The concept, pushed hard by vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Hoss Cartwright, is called Prompt Global Strike and the budget contains $240 million for development programs.

But one of the more promising efforts, DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), made it part way through a test and then vanished. A review board has been formed to find out just what went wrong. No word yet on when their findings might be available.

DARPA said the launch vehicle, known as the Minotaur Lite, got the HTV-2 up. “The launch vehicle executed first of its kind energy management maneuvers, clamshell payload fairing release and HTV-2 deployment. Approximately nine minutes into the mission, telemetry assets experienced a loss of signal from the HTV-2. An engineering team is reviewing available data to understand this event.”


Containerized Cruise Missile Featured in Slick Marketing Video (Updated)

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Updated: Rats, looks like the Russian firm deleted the video from YouTube. Hopefully it will resurface at some point. Here’s a screen capture of the vid. And it reappears. (Thanks GF!)

Continuing with the anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) theme, this marketing video has been making the rounds. It comes from Kontsern-Morinformsistema-Agat, a Russian company that claims to be building a new cruise missile system, the Club-K, that can be hidden inside a standard 40-foot shipping container.

According to this Reuters news story, the missiles at least are the real deal, coming from Russian builder Novator. The article contains some breathless quotes from a writer for Jane’s Defense Weekly; including the claim that the shipping container missile is a “carrier killer.” This is getting to be like the tech world where every new mobile gadget is labeled a potential “iPhone killer.”

They’ve definitely put together an impressive looking marketing vid (that bizarrely starts off with the theme from “Born Free” and finishes up with “Gladiator”) showing the containerized missiles innocuously moved about on a semi, a railcar and a merchant vessel, only to unleash its payload on an unsuspecting enemy. Oddly, the targeted enemy appears to be outfitted with American tanks, helicopters and aircraft, minus any identifying markings of course.

– Greg

Next-Gen Coastal Artillery

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

That was then.

This is now.

Above, an Iranian produced version of the C-802 anti-ship missile, concealed inside a commercial truck, from Iran’s Great Prophet 5 military exercises.

Having puffed its chest mightily during the just concluded Great Prophet 5 exercises, Iran figured it would continue in that vein and issued another one of its periodic threats asserting it holds the keys to the Strait of Hormuz. Mohammad-Nabi Habibi, secretary-general of Iran’s conservative Islamic Coalition Party, put it rather artfully: “If America goes lunatic, the children of the nation in the Islamic Republic’s armed forces would choke the West’s throat at the Strait of Hormuz.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iran earlier this month, Joint Chiefs vice chair Gen. James Cartwright said if export-import dependant Iran brought Gulf shipping to a halt, they’d be choking themselves. The military leadership believes they could keep the Strait open, he added.

Some aren’t so sure. CSBA’s Andrew Krepinevich, in his report, “Why AirSea Battle?” (.pdf), says U.S. ships transiting the Gulf would face a “hornets nest” of Iranian precision weapons that can easily range the Strait, creating a potential maritime “no-go zone.” Iran is adding missiles to its “anti-access” arsenal and the Gulf’s geography favors the Iranians. For example, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy has tunneled into a cluster of islands near the Strait, building underground missile bunkers, what they call “static warships.”