Fighter Procurement News- India, Netherlands

India’s much-heralded purchase of the Dassault Rafale fighter, critical for closing a yawning gap in India’s force structure left by the retirement of MiG-21s and other older aircraft, is moving forward at a snail’s pace, as India contemplates an expensive integration of Russian missiles for the platform. Never mind that India has a large enough air force to comfortably use two sets of ordinance (as they already do with their Mirage fleet), or that having two ordinance sets provides a nice insurance against flaws in any one system, integration of new weapons and the consequent delay in procuring the fighters could well cost more than maintaining two sets of ordinance.

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The Dutch government, in a stroke of illogic that beggars belief, has decided to purchase only 37 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters over the next five years, while selling their new naval support ships. The expensive F-35 was always going to cripple Dutch force structure and defence procurement, but it seems the government is trying to mitigate the damage by purchasing a force so small as to be useless for anything beyond domestic air defence, a role for which the F-35 is hardly the optimal aircraft. There is a word that a government wanting to preserve capabilities while cutting costs should be strongly urged to consider: Gripen.

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Speaking of which, an interesting piece on the possibilities of the Gripen for Canada can be found here, and a more formal one from the Ottawa Citizen here. The Gripen in its new NG version is a real balm to the ills of modern fighters. It is not only reasonably priced, but has a low cost of ownership, a complete array of integrated weapons (a big problem with other platforms including Eurofighter and F-35), high speed (unlike the Super Hornet and the F-35), great manoeuvrability (the F-35’s dogfighting ability has frequently been questioned), up-to-date electronics… It is neither a demigod of aerial combat like the Eurofighter nor a full stealth aircraft like the F-35, but neither is it far behind in those areas, and if the RCAF can buy two Gripens to an F-35 with a guarantee that maintenance costs won’t leach money from other important capital programs (of which the RCAF has several), it would be more than worth it.

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In other news, the crisis in Syria has seen a prolonged congregation of Russian, American and NATO ships in the Eastern end of the Mediterranean. A map of the ships from earlier this month.

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In the News- Syria and Russia

After a nearly two-month hiatus (sorry about that- life, it seems, will happen), we return to publication with news items that are just begging for some bad jokes.

Russia has said that it will deliver S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles to Syria, honouring a previous contract, “to deter foreign intervention.” Days of confusion ensue as to whether or not the missiles have already been delivered. The United States and Germany plead with Russia not to go ahead with delivery, saying that it will alter the balance of power in the region.

The S-300 is a serious threat to modern air forces- if you’re the sort of country that has a densely-layered air defence system to back it up. The Syrian Army, as Israel has repeatedly demonstrated over the past few months, does not.

Meanwhile, Russia has already delivered Yakhont anti-ship missiles to Syria under a 2007 contract- rebel fishing trawlers beware! The Yakhont is the export version of the Onyx supersonic anti-ship missile, one of the world’s most dangerous. Presumably, these will all be used in shore batteries, since Syria’s Soviet-era missile boats would need serious work in order to handle them.

In a far more serious deterrent to foreign intervention, Russian vessels, including the aircraft carrier Kuznetsov, three amphibious assault ships which US officials believe to be carrying supplies of weapons for the regime and other vessels from the Russian Black Sea Fleet are sitting in the eastern Mediterranean.

Full-scale intervention in Syria always seemed politically unlikely, but the Russians’ presence on Syria’s short coastline makes any intervention from the sea almost impossible- even if the Russian vessels do not attempt to intervene, their presence lends the situation the potential to explode into a wider international incident should an accident occur. The question is, why should Russia feel such a degree of commitment to Assad? Of course, Putin may be trying to tick off the West on general principle- this just seems a rather expensive and risky investment.

Meanwhile, Assad has warned Israel that he will respond “in kind” to any future air strikes on Syrian territory, while citing “popular pressure” to retake the Golan Heights. Still no comment on the rather more urgent “popular pressure” for the president to leave office… Like Galtieri before him, Assad is looking for an enemy to distract his people- or perhaps he is throwing a sop to his Hezbollah allies. Unfortunately, civil wars don’t just go away.

With fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights today between rebels and government forces, Israel was not involved. Meanwhile, we can be sure that Israel takes Assad’s threats with all the seriousness that they deserve. I’m sure the Israelis are so terrified they can barely continue laughing. Israel may not be able to pacify a region without getting egg all over its face, but when the IDF is called to perform a mission it was actually designed for, like pounding whatever’s left of the Syrian Army at this point into the ground, the result is a foregone conclusion.