The Russian government has described the United States’ decision to unilaterally leave the Open Skies Treaty as “the next step” in Washington’s dismantling of the international security architecture.
The US, which until now has been flying the OC-135B in the Open Skies role, is set to withdraw from the international treaty on 22 November.
Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the US announcement on 21 May, the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, said that the US termination of the treaty is expected in the context of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the wider international security order.
“The decision announced by Washington on the upcoming withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty was the next step by the United States on the path to destroying the decades-old international security architecture,” Medvedev said, adding, “In statements by US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the termination of American participation in this agreement is expected to be framed by alleged violations of its provisions by Russia. A similar justification scheme for their own destructive actions has been used by Washington more than once as a contrived reason to withdraw from other fundamental documents in the field of arms control, including missile defence treaties, on medium and shorter-range missiles.”
Medvedev’s comments followed Pompeo’s 21 May press release in which he stated that the United States will cease to be a party to the treaty on 22 November.
US Marines and sailors are continuing to train and prepare for their upcoming deployment with a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Southern Command [SPMAGTF-SC] across Central America despite the ongoing global pandemic.
As of 21 May, about 300 US troops were still set to deploy south to work alongside allies and partners during the hurricane season, roughly June through November, according to Captain Jose Negrete, the public affairs director of US Marine Corps (USMC) Forces, South.
“In terms of what countries they deploy to and what partner nations join us, that is going to be situation dependent and will vary country by country,” he told Janes. “As you know, the situation is very fluid, and we continue to monitor it closely as it evolves for any adjustments we may have to make.”
As the command finalises deployment plans, SPMAGTF-SC Marines and sailors have continued training, which has been “assessed and adjusted” to align with Department of Defense, senior leaders, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Capt Negrete added.
For example, service members wear cloth face coverings when they are unable to maintain 6 ft of distance from people in public areas and work centres during certification exercises, according to an 8 May press release. The medical team’s navy corpsmen also held a ‘sick-call’ every morning to screen service members for Covid-19.
Over the past several years, the SPMAGTF-SC deployment has become an annual event with troops sent to Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for military-to-military training events, to assist with community projects, and help with potential disaster relief efforts, such as in 2018 when the Fuego volcano erupted outside of Guatemala’s capital.
The Moroccan government has signed an export loan agreement with France’s BNP Paribas for the acquisition of a new ground-based air defence (GBAD) system.
Announced via the country’s government gazette on 18 May, the loan agreement was given formal approval on 11 May through Decree 346.20.2. The loan, valued at EUR192.1 million (USD210.6 million) will be used to support a commercial contract between MBDA’s French subsidiary, and the Moroccan Department of National Defence.
The loan agreement with Morocco is understood to be supporting the country’s acquisition of the VL MICA ground-based air defence system.
While the specific system has not been disclosed, French and regional media have previously suggested that the contract would be for MBDA’s VL MICA system as part of a wider EUR400 million package that was to include the Nexter Caesar truck-mounted self-propelled artillery system.
An MBDA spokesperson declined to comment.
The VL MICA system in its land-based configuration consists of a series of truck-mounted elements, including a tactical operations centre, Sagem SIGMA 30 radar, and launcher vehicles that can carry between three and six multi-round launchers with the missiles in clusters of four rounds.
China has announced a 2020 defence budget of CNY1.268 trillion (USD178 billion). The government said the figure was a year-on-year increase of 6.6%, the lowest rate of growth recorded for many years.
The government said the slowdown was linked directly to Covid-19 and the pandemic’s devastating impact on the domestic and global economies.
The new figure also continues a downward trend. “The defence budget [in 2020] continues to see single-digit growth for a fifth consecutive year,” reported state news agency Xinhua. “It is the lowest growth rate in recent years.”
The defence budget was announced at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which started on 22 May.
At this event, the government, for the first time, refrained from setting an annual economic target for China. The omission, it said, was a response to Covid-19 and economic uncertainty. In the first quarter of 2020, China’s economy contracted by 6.8%.
Despite the economic constraints, China’s Premier Li Keqiang told NPC legislators that the Chinese government was committed to investing in military capability.
“We will deepen reforms in national defence and the military, increase our logistic and equipment support capacity, and promote innovative development of defence-related science and technology,” he said.
Li added, “We will improve the system of national defence mobilisation and ensure that the unity between the military and the government and between the military and the people remains rock solid.”
The growth in the budget was also regarded as positive by state-owned media. The state-owned Global Times newspaper, citing unidentified military analysts, said the defence allocation “means that China can provide sufficient funding for military development despite the economic impact brought by the Covid-19 outbreak”.
Relations between the United States and China seem set to deteriorate further following a public statement of congratulations sent on 19 May by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to Tsai Ing-wen on the start of her second term as “Taiwan’s President”, following her election victory on 11 January.
The reference prompted a strongly indignant response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, which said that that the remarks seriously violated the ‘One-China Principle’ and interfered in China’s internal affairs.
China’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) also reacted, saying that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has “the strong will, full confidence, and sufficient capability to thwart any form of external interference and any separatist attempts for ‘Taiwan independence’”.
The remarks are just the latest in a series of acrimonious exchanges, with Washington accusing China of “attempting to exploit” the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and Beijing accusing the US of being a “troublemaker” and “the biggest facilitator of the militarisation of the South China Sea”.
The war of words has taken place against a background of activities and incidents seen as provocative in the respective capitals.
On 18 April, Beijing declared that two subordinate districts under Sansha City had been established to administer the Paracel and Spratly Islands. The following day, 80 geographic features in the South China Sea were issued with Chinese names.
On 16 April, the Chinese vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 began survey activities in an area within the exclusive economic zone claimed by Malaysia and in close proximity to an exploratory rig operating for the Malaysian Petronas company. Vietnam also protested when China unilaterally declared a fishing ban from 1 May, as in previous years, in areas to the north of the Spratly Islands.
The US Navy (USN) is contributing a Remora 3 salvage remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to the Canadian Armed Force’s (CAF’s) recovery attempt of a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone maritime and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter crash that took place in the sea off Greece on 29 April.
The Phoenix International Remora 6000 is a 6,000 m-rated work-class vehicle developed for deep ocean salvage, search, and broadcast-quality optical documentation. There are two Remora ROVs: Remora 2 and Remora 3.
The US Navy is contributing a Remora 3 remotely operated vehicle in an attempt to recover a Canadian CH-148 that crashed in the sea near Greece on 29 April.
The Remora 3 is larger, heavier, and has more vehicle power than Remora 2. CAF spokesman Major Olivier Gallant said on 21 May that the USN is providing a Remora 3 for the recovery effort.
The Remora 3 will be used with a Flyaway deep-ocean salvage system to support the search and recovery operation. Integration of these two systems was expected to take place on 20 May.
The search site is in the Ionian Sea about 220 nm east of Sicily and roughly 3,000 m below sea level. The CAF said it had excellent positioning data on where the helicopter was potentially located. The underwater locator beacon, which enables it to zero in on the wreckage with a high degree of certainty, will also potentially assist with locating the aircraft or debris on the ocean floor, although the CAF said it would not know if the beacon was working until it arrived at the crash cite.
The Italian government has revealed a hitherto-unconfirmed Leonardo military helicopter sale to Egypt, according to documents disclosed in late May.
Seen in Italian military markings, the Italian government has confirmed that the AW149 has now been sold to Egypt.
According to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Leonardo has sold 24 AW149 and eight AW189 helicopters to the Egyptian military for approximately EUR871 million (USD957 million). The sales were recorded in the ministry’s 2019 arms exports report to the Italian Senate of the Republic.
The documents do not disclose any further information pertaining to production or delivery timelines, aircraft roles, or which branch of the Egyptian military will field them.
While the Italian government report provided no details as to the intended role of the helicopters within the Egyptian military, it did note that the AW149s would be configured with eight seats (it can normally carry up to 18 passengers), while the similarly-sized AW189s will be configured with the maximum 19 seats. These configurations suggest that the AW149s will perform a specialist military task that requires the fitting of bespoke mission equipment, while the AW189s will be used for general passenger transport.
Seen here in UK coastguard service, the AW189 is the civil variant of the military AW149 and has also now been sold to Egypt.
Leonardo has not commented on the report nor the sales contained within it.
The US Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Cross-Functional Team (CFT) will continue flight trials in the fourth quarter of this year as it transitions into the next phase of its Air Launched Effects (ALE) programme, service officials have disclosed.
The decision follows initial flights tests conducted at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, between February and March, during which theArea-I Altius 600 unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) were for the first time forward-launched at low altitudes in the hover position from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in support of the ALE concept.
The Altius 600 UAS being launched from a UH-60 helicopter at low altitudes and in the hover position during a trial.
Speaking to Janes from the FVL CFT’s headquarters at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) Integration Lead and Plans/Requirements Officer Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Freude and Jeff McCoy, Product Lead for the Command, Control and Effects Product Office, PM Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) confirmed the forthcoming flight tests would be designated ‘Project Convergence’.
Industry sources told Janes that flight tests were scheduled to be conducted in September.
The ALE programme has been designed to enhance the army’s ability to conduct multi-domain operations by using autonomous air vehicles as part of a wider FARA “eco-system”.
Expected to penetrate enemy air-defence systems, air vehicles must be capable of creating “chaos in enemy decision spaces” to enable freedom of movement for friendly forces across a battlespace.
Air vehicle mission sets have been divided by the CFT into detect, identify, locate, and report (DLIR); disrupt; decoy; and lethal categories. Mission sets will be enabled by a series of active and passive payloads that could “stimulate” and confuse enemy air-defence systems, service officials added.
The CFT told Janes
The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) on 20 May announced that it intended to negotiate and award a sole-source contract modification to Raytheon Missiles and Defense (RMD), a Raytheon Technologies business, “to de-scope Early Operational Capability (EOC) and add options for RSS [Radar Signal Simulator] kits, initiator testing, and structural ground testing to the Miniature Air Launched Decoy – Navy (MALD-N) Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD) Statement of Work (SOW)”.
NAVAIR announced the award to Raytheon Missile Systems, now RMD, of a USD33 million 24-month EMD phase contract for MALD-N in January 2019. That award followed a USD46.6 million technical maturation and risk reduction (TMRR) contract placed by the command in September 2018.
Intended to address the US Navy’s (USN’s) requirement for a network-enabled stand-in jammer to support suppression of enemy air defence missions, MALD-N is an evolution of the US Air Force (USAF) ADM-160C, the datalink-equipped Miniature Air Launched Decoy – Jammer (MALD-J) system – a subscale, turbojet-powered, air-launched decoy/jammer with a maximum range of about 500 n miles (926 km).
An evolved version of the MALD-J (pictured), MALD-N is designed to address the US Navy’s requirement for a network-enabled stand-in jammer to support suppression of enemy air defence missions.
The MALD-N also benefits from technology advances delivered through the Raytheon MALD-X evolved stand-in jammer development, which incorporates a modular front-end, an improved jamming payload, and a low-altitude capability with the MALD-J airframe.
Boeing has expanded its industry team for the UK’s E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning Mk1 (AEW1) procurement programme, with a national conversion supplier and a defensive-aids system (DAS) provider both being announced on 20 May.
An artist’s impression of how the E-7 AEW&C aircraft will appear in UK service. The RAF is acquiring five such aircraft to replace its current E-3D Sentry platforms.
The prime contractor for the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) procurement of five Wedgetail AEW1 aircraft said that it has now signed up STS Aviation Services and Leonardo as the latest companies to be involved in the UK programme.
STS Aviation Services will be responsible for converting ‘green’ 737 Next-Generation (NG) airliners into Wedgetails at its site in Birmingham (this work had previously been earmarked for Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group before the switch for unspecified reasons). Leonardo will be responsible for delivering the aircraft’s DAS, part of which it will subcontract to Thales UK for its Elix-IR threat warning system and Vicon XF ‘intelligent’ countermeasures dispensing system.
For STS Aviation Services, the announcement will create about 90 high-skilled jobs at the site formerly operated by Monarch Aircraft Engineering at Birmingham Airport. A further 30 Boeing UK positions will also be created for this particular aspect of the programme, in addition to the 50 already working on the project.