Advertising and the Fighter Market, and other news

F-35 add on OC Transpo bus

F-35 ad on OC Transpo bus

In what some would call a shameless and ham-handed attempt to rebrand their product in Canada, Lockheed Martin has taken to advertising the F-35 on the sides of Ottawa city buses. The argument presented is essentially the same as one that Sir Humphrey (of the highly-regarded British sitcom Yes Prime Minister) advanced in favour of buying Trident missiles:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Don’t you believe that Great Britain should have the best?
Jim Hacker: Yes, of course.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Very well, if you walked into a nuclear missile showroom you would buy Trident – it’s lovely, it’s elegant, it’s beautiful. It is quite simply the best. And Britain should have the best. In the world of the nuclear missile it is the Saville Row suit, the Rolls Royce Corniche, the Château Lafitte 1945. It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say?
Jim Hacker: Only that it costs £15 billion and we don’t need it.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, you can say that about anything at Harrods.

In other news, the son of a PLA general faces trial on charges of gang rape, continuing a series of crackdowns on official corruption which have already seen a high official executed for child molestation and others jailed for misconduct.

China’s recent order for Russian Su-35 fighter aircraft has been raised to 100 aircraft from 24. This is the latest operational model of the Flanker series, and, depending on the avionics fit, should give China a substantial technological boost, both in the air and in the production of its own Flanker variants. China has also ordered 4 Lada class submarines, suggesting that they see a need to improve their own line of air-independent conventional submarines, the Yuan class.

Lada-class submarine

Lada-class submarine

The US Naval War College Review’s Summer 2013 edition contains an interesting analysis of the problematic procurement history of the Royal Navy’s new Type 45 Destroyers, providing a window into issues that many services currently face in their procurement programs.


No Joy in Chopperville

CH-148 Cyclone

CH-148 Cyclone

The world bristles with ASW helicopters, from the AW-101 Merlin to the NH-90 to the Seahawk, all of them capable, proven designs. Of course, the Canadian DND has never felt any obligation to go with the cost-effective, proven solution- that’s why Canada chose none of the above and instead opted for the CH-148 Cyclone, a variant of the Sikorsky S-92, which has never been used in the role before.

This saga goes back to the waning days of the Cold War, when the Mulroney government ordered the then- EH-101 to replace Canada’s ageing Sea Kings. With the fall of the Soviet Union, such “unnecessary” spending became an election issue, and the order was promptly cancelled by the incoming Liberal government. After ten years and not a few Sea King crashes, it was realised that we actually did need a new helicopter.

Now, not for the first time, it seems clear that not only is developing a Canada-specific ASW helicopter an enormous and unnecessary waste of money, but Sikorsky can’t deliver the goods. Delivery was to have begun in 2008, and so far, all that’s been delivered are four helicopters that can’t perform their mission functions. The Ministry of Public Works has initiated an independent review of the program.

It is likely Canadian taxpayers will still be feeding the maw of this tragicomic beast of a procurement program for decades to come. But as the Sea King approaches its fiftieth birthday, it’s time to explore other options, for the sake of the crews if nothing else.

Top Five Security Challenges for the Next Ten Years

They aren’t what you might think- or even what I might like to write about. North Korea, Iran- these are the least urgent problems in security and defence policy right now.

1. Population

The world’s population is set to increase to around 9 billion by 2050. This will occur in the nations least equipped to handle this growth, primarily in Africa and South Asia. The really dangerous thing about this trend is that it is occurring just as robotics is making demonstrable headway in replacing even relatively skilled human manufacturing jobs. If the manufacturing-based development of East Asia moves over to Africa in significant volume, it will provide far fewer wages than it did in China. Add to this a global financial system that is still far from stable, and we could be faced with the necessity of reinventing the global economy as an issue of human security.

On the other side of the coin, a number of nations- notably China- are in a very bad place demographically. They face an ageing population, a consequence of the continuing One-Child Policy. Thirty-five percent of the Chinese population will be senior citizens around 2050. The countries facing this problem are present-day powerhouses for the global economy. We had better hope they’re rich enough to become importers of goods and services.

The really interesting prediction is that the middle-case projection for world population shows growth slowing after 2050 and continuing to hover around the 9 billion mark- in which case, that is the number that we will have to learn to live with, and create a stable system for. This assumes, of course, that growth doesn’t simply continue until there’s a population crash.

In any case, the population growth differential between developing and developed nations will see this issue gradually take first place in the security agendas of developed nations. The more obvious issues, such as immigration policy, will give way to dealing with the rise of new super-populated countries (Nigeria will be one), and finally, the global potential for explosive unrest as the majority of the world’s population demands a greater share of the world’s resources from the minority.

2. Computers

Technological evolution has gotten away from us. Cyber-warfare and cyber-espionage are already constant facts of life. More importantly, we are watching as increasing shares of the global economy are computerised (creating human insecurity), and likewise critical infrastructure (creating strategic insecurity). China was perhaps the first nation on Earth to base an entire generation of military doctrine on using another nation’s dependence on computers, electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum against it. We know that individuals can pose significant threats to critical infrastructure, power grids, computer networks, urban infrastructure. Arguably, victory in a future conflict may no longer belong to the more technologically advanced power, but the one that can most effectively disrupt their opponent’s technology while minimising its own vulnerability.

The only way to effectively respond to this kind of threat is to become much more conscious in our decisions about the use of computers, the complexity of computers, the design of critical systems, to be much more coordinated and aware of what exactly we are gaining and what we are losing as we upgrade in all of these areas. In other words, computer advancement must become a matter both of security policy and of public debate.

3. Drones

They’re coming. They are now relatively cheaply available from countries like China. The United States has set the precedent that they can be used against threats to national security in peacetime- and now, for surveillance against American citizens on American soil. And the monopoly of developed nations and major military powers on drone technology is about to evaporate. The time to foresee how drones might be used when they become available to nations of all stripes, political systems and allegiances was seven years ago. Now, the precedents are set, and if other nations should follow the example of the United States, then we have a problem. We don’t know what drone warfare might look like when all parties, including private buyers, criminal and terrorist organisations gain access to this technology or if there is a way to contain it.

4. Climate/Water/Food Security

Sea levels- rising. Droughts- increasing. Extreme weather events- increasing. And, as all emergency management professionals are painfully aware, there are a large number of overdue natural disasters pending, ranging from major seismic events to solar storms. Security and defence policy makers would do well to think a little less about tinpot regimes that might someday be worth nuking back to the stone age and a little more about what could very well be a perfect storm of circumstances in the next thirty years that might render global security in terms of population movement, famine, infrastructure problems and conflicts over scarce resources totally unmanageable.

5. The Unknown Future War

With the threat of major conventional war relatively low, many countries nevertheless seem to be arming for one. No one knows what it might look like, and the doctrines under which it will be fought are at this point more theoretical than many military planners would like to admit. But chances are that it will involve at least the United States, if not other developed countries, in fairly short order. The likeliest geographical locations are troubling- both bestride sea lanes that are crucial to the global economy. I’ll leave you to guess.

What isn’t on this list and why:

North Korea

North Korea is dead and doesn’t know it. It has consistently refused the China’s consistent offers to help it develop on the Chinese model- its only hope for salvation. The only question is how it will die, and how many lives it will take with it. Unless the regime is utterly suicidal, its only threat to security on a global scale is the prospect of a nuclear Japan, which may just make the Chinese hit the roof.


Everyone knows what is likely to happen if Iran goes nuclear. Israel will certainly launch airstrikes. The United States may become involved. If Iran is allowed to remain nuclear, Saudi Arabia will follow. My bet is that China, which now has more riding on Gulf oil than the United States does, will buy Iran off.


A threat perception out of all proportion to the risk. Heart disease, auto accidents, AIDS- all are bigger threats to life and limb in the developed world, except in one respect. Small terrorist threats can elicit totally disproportionate responses, causing the developed world to spend lives, treasure and reputation in far greater amounts than the terrorists could have achieved themselves.


Still a live issue, but a critical one mainly for Europe (doomed to high energy prices), and China, which will effectively dominate the market for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, that’s the view so far. We’ll see what people have to say at the World Conference on Disaster Management next week. That’s always a place where you’re bound to hear some interesting perspectives on the future.

Scrap Victoria-Class Subs Or Buy New Ones

Canada has wasted over ten years and enough money to have bought brand new submarines trying to fix four ex-British submarines that were stored improperly when they were decommissioned.

There is no doubt that a modern submarine force could be useful to Canada, particularly in the Arctic, but the main justification for the submarine force has always been to participate in ASW exercises with the United States. The existing submarines are an unconscionable money-pit, and much as one might like to recommend purchasing new models- U212s or Gotlands from Germany or Sweden- the submarine force at this point just isn’t worth the money.

The complete report is here.

Major Surface Units: The Next BRIC Generation

Admiral Gorshkov, Kolkata, Type 052D

Admiral Gorshkov, Kolkata, Type 052D

They’re coming. For over two decades, Russian defence industries have struggled with a paradox. Though possessing more than ample experience and talent to create world-class equipment, with their own country struggling even to maintain its legacy Soviet-era equipment and others largely content with castoffs, new development has been slow to gain funding and even slower to find buyers.

The Russian Navy possesses formidable weapons systems, but they depend on twenty to thirty year old sensors and lack the digital combat systems of Western counterparts. Enter the Indians. The Talwar class frigate, a descendant of the Soviet Krivak (Burevestnik) class, incorporates the latest generation of Russian-derived weapons, including the Shtil (SA-N-12) surface-to-air missile and Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missile, combined with a fully modern digital back-end. The success of this design seems to have been something of a revelation to both countries.

Krivak and Talwar

Krivak and Talwar

India has already built a similar design indigenously, the Shivalik class, while Russia is building the Gorshkov class, a Talwar derivative with Onyx rather than BrahMos and the longer-ranged S-400 SAM. Critically, it also seems to feature a new generation of electronically-scanned radar in place of the legacy equipment of the Talwars.

While smaller than Russia’s last new major surface combatant, the Admiral Chabanenko, it will pack significantly greater punch, as one might expect of a design slated to replace both the old Krivaks and the mighty Sovremenny-class anti-surface destroyers. Six orders are reported so far, and current plans envision 20-30 units of the class. Like most Russian naval procurement plans these days, that is rather overoptimistic in economic terms, but it certainly signals confidence in the design.

Meanwhile, India has not been standing still. The Kolkata-class destroyers, however, will incorporate more Indian and Israeli weaponry, including the Nirbhay land-attack cruise missile, the purported hypersonic BrahMos-2 and the Barak-8 medium-range SAM.

Over to China, which after a long development process has settled on a destroyer design for mass production. The Type 052C/D follows a number of designs built in ones and twos over the past decade, a cautious technological evolution that has led China to create its own multirole air-defence ship with indigenously built (subtext: “good thing those Russians are just too chicken to defend their patents”) weapon systems. The Type 052D is already in series production, alongside the Type 054A frigate- both capable multirole designs, with the former taking the long range AAW role and the latter the medium range with S-300 and Shtil- er, HQ-9 and HQ-16- respectively.

It has taken awhile, but after a long period of hibernation, Soviet military technology has pollinated a new multinational generation of high-end naval development. Now, if only there were a strategically reasonable purpose for all this stuff…

Chief of Australian Army Takes On Sex Abuse

Time posted this earlier today, but it’s well worth repeating. I normally don’t cover these issues, which would require a blog of their own, but Lt. Gen. Morrison’s message deserves to be heard far and wide. It is exactly the response that one would expect from an organisation of warriors with a strong ethic of integrity, and one that has been sorely lacking in similar situations in the US military- and, for that matter, the Canadian RCMP. It is time for all uniformed institutions to take notice- this is what the program looks like. This is how warriors face their problems. This is the standard of honour expected in the 21st Century. Get with it or get out.

Cost Concealment, Missiles and the Helicopter of the Future

The US military industrial complex has been rallying around the beleaguered F-35 program in recent months, amidst apparent cost reductions. How real these reductions might be is brought into question in a thorough article by Winslow Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information.

Meanwhile, the Jamestown Foundation has published a report on China’s development of an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile.

The new Royal Norwegian Navy destroys the old Royal Norwegian Navy in a live test of the NSM anti-ship missile, launched from a Skjold class patrol boat and striking Trondheim, a decommissioned Oslo-class frigate. Get your explosion fix here.

The US DoD program to replace its ageing fleet of medium utility and attack helicopters has selected two competitors, a Boeing-Sikorsky design with coaxial rotors (somewhere in the Kamov Design Bureau, jokes are being made about the Americans coming late to ever good idea) and a push propeller- and, unfortunately, a Bell tiltrotor design following in the footsteps of the troubled and over-budget V-22 Osprey. The coaxial rotor plus push-prop approach is a technologically mature way to make a helicopter much faster while maintaining the kind of agility formerly reserved for scout choppers. With current airframes wearing out, this is going to be a “must not fail” program.

This set of pictures from the Singapore Navy Open House 2013 brings together vessels from around the region and is well worth a look. The USS Freedom is not the least armed ship present, but it is certainly among the least armed.