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Russia Ditches Plans for Super Advanced 5th Generation Fighter Jets

The Buzz

The Russian military is scaling back initial requirements for the fifth generation T-50 (PAK FA) fighters to twelve planes, after initially planning for fifty-two. Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said that this was due to economic considerations.

However, Borisov noted that the Defense Ministry reserves the right to determine the number of fifth generation fighters for purchase, so the initial plans may be corrected.

“It would be better for us to have a reserve of PAK-FA and the possibility to move ahead in the future to using the 4+ fighters’ [Su-30 and Su-35] capabilities to the maximum,” Borisov said. In other words, Russia would make the most of its existing Sukhoi Su-35 capabilities, which are highly rated by experts. The United States is currently the only country with an Air Force that includes a fully operational fifth generation jet fighter, the F-22.

Production of the T-50 series will go ahead in 2016 regardless of any reduction in orders. During a visit to the plant where the planes were being constructed, in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East, Borisov said, “according to the next year plans, we should have the first delivery of the series fifth-generation fighters.”

The T-50 will be a stealth aircraft, invisible to radars. It has several advantages over the F-22: “the T-50 is significantly faster than the F-22, and has a huge advantage in terms of range—5,500 kilometers compared to the F-22’s 3,400. The T-50’s detection systems allow it to spot incoming threats at a distance of up to 400 kilometers, compared to the F-22’s 210 kilometers.” However, Russia’s fifth generation air fleet will be at a numerical disadvantage, as the U.S. Air Force inventory of F-22s is 187.

India is also interested in the T-50, a fact that may help boost purchases. However, India wants to localize production of its T-50s “much like another Russian-designed fighter, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, which has been in series production for more than a decade at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) plant in Nasik.”

India is frustrated at delays in its negotiations with the French company Dassault over the contract for the Rafale fighter aircraft.

Image: Wikimedia/Alex Beltyukov

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Japan's Navy Unveils 'Aircraft Carrier in Disguise'

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Japan’s largest warship since World War II has just entered service. Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) took delivery on Wednesday of the Izumo, a helicopter carrier “as big as the Imperial Navy aircraft carriers that battled the United States in the Pacific.”

The Izumo was indigenously constructed at a shipyard in Yokohama, near Tokyo, at a cost of around $1.5 billion. It is named after the former Izumo province in western Honshu. In Japanese mythology, the entrance to yomi (hell) is located in Izumo.

Perhaps this is apt, as the ship’s capacities definitely have the ability to dispatch Japan’s foes. The Izumo displaces 19,500 tons and is 248 meters (814 feet) long. According to Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, the ship will improve the Japanese Self-Defense Forces’ capacity to deal with submarines: “As well as having the capacity to search for submarines itself, it will be able to deal with submarines over a larger area as it’s equipped with a lot of helicopters.”

The ship can carry nine helicopters, in addition to 470 personnel. However, in theory, the ship can carry over twenty aircraft. According to reports, while the Izumo “does not have a catapult necessary to launch fixed-wing fighters, a planned vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) variant of the F-35 could fly from the Izumo's flight deck.” This basically makes the Izumo—which gives Japan its largest naval flat surface since the Second World War—an “aircraft carrier in disguise.”

Designating it a helicopter destroyer allows Japan to circumvent its constitutional ban on waging offensive war, as aircraft carriers are considered offensive weapons due to their ability to project force. Japan is also adding “longer-range patrol aircraft and military cargo planes to its defense capability, and buying Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, amphibious assault vehicles and Boeing's Osprey troop carrier, which can operate from the Izumo.”

Natakani noted that the Izumo could project Japanese personnel and equipment in a variety of functions beyond Japan, including “peace keeping operations, international disaster relief, and aid.”  This is all part of a concerted Japanese effort under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of stepping up Japanese defense spending in the face of an assertive China. Tensions between the two countries are especially great due to a territorial dispute in the East China Sea. In May 2013, Japan said it detected submarines navigating under water close to territorial waters near Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures.

Nakatani noted that “China has aircraft carriers,” before adding that Japan wasn’t thinking of operating the Izumo as an aircraft carrier. A second ship of the same size and specifications as the Izumo will likely be introduced in early 2018.

Image: Wikimedia/Dragoner JP 

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Thailand's Teflon Economy Is Imploding

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For nearly fifteen years in the 2000s and early 2010s, Thailand’s economy, once one of the fastest-growing in the world, survived the effects of near-constant political turmoil, natural disasters, and worries about the country’s future in the wake of a looming royal succession. Even after the massive floods in the monsoon season of 2011 that destroyed much of the industrial estates north of Bangkok, home to auto parts, disk drive, and other key manufacturing plants, Thailand’s economy rebounded strongly. Even after street protests in Bangkok in May 2010 led to a brutal military crackdown in which much of the downtown wound up looking like a war zone, several major commercial buildings were torched, and at least 90 people were killed, Thailand’s economy rebounded. Tourists continued to come to the kingdom—more than 22 million in 2012, the year after the flooding—and in 2012 Thailand’s GDP grew by over six percent.

Many observers of the kingdom believed that, after the May 2014 coup, the Teflon economy would display its usual resilience. In fact, a large majority of the CEOs of the largest Thai businesses in Bangkok allegedly supported the military putsch, publicly or privately, according to multiple businesspeople and journalists who have spoken with top Thai CEOs. In part, they may have supported the coup because they believed that, at its heart, the Puea Thai Party and its leaders either were republicans or could not be trusted to be in power at a time of royal succession. (There is little evidence that Puea Thai leaders actually have republican sentiments.) But business leaders also may have supported the coup since they believed the generals could bring a modicum of stability, and since Thailand’s economy had performed strongly in the 1980s during a long period of de facto military/technocratic rule.

But the era in which Thailand’s economy could withstand any political turbulence, and would continue to attract tourists and foreign investors, appears to be over. Fifteen years of political chaos has distracted Thai policymakers from making important investments in infrastructure or the country’s education system, which has never been upgraded to prepare people for a middle-income economy. In particular, Thailand’s English classes and information technology classes lag badly behind those of Thailand’s regional competitors. A recent article in Singapore’s Today notes that “Thailand ranks 55th out of 60 countries on the English Proficiency Index, the world’s major ranking of English-language skills. That is the lowest among Southeast Asian countries.” This despite the fact that several other countries in Southeast Asia are far poorer than Thailand and have much less resources than Bangkok to help promote English education. As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations moves toward a single market in goods and services, English skills will be even more important for businesses that want to attract regional investment and for workers in a range of industries looking for opportunities throughout ASEAN.

The country’s seemingly endless turmoil also finally seems to have deterred investors, who for years continued to pour money into the kingdom because of its natural attractiveness and history of liberal investment policies. At the same time as Thailand stalls, other countries in the region, like the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, and even Indonesia have promoted policies that have made them more attractive to foreign investment. The Japanese government continues to court Bangkok, even after the coup, as a means of stalling the Thai generals approach to China; Japan’s desire to blunt China’s influence is likely the major reason why Tokyo is proposing its own plan for funding a rail line in Thailand. (The Chinese government has proposed its own, competing rail project in the kingdom.) Yet unlike the Japanese government, private sector Japanese investors are not so bullish on Thailand. Japanese investors, the biggest group of foreign investors in the kingdom, have begun to shift new investments to Vietnam and other countries in the region. Other foreign investors have become increasingly cautious in approving new Thailand projects.

A recent Bloomberg analysis of the growth rates of major Southeast Asian economies showed that, since 2010, Thailand’s GDP growth rate has been about half that of neighboring Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. And in 2015, the World Bank projects that Thailand’s growth rate will again be the lowest in the region. Thailand’s central bank last week cut its own forecast for Thailand’s 2015 growth rate. Expect it to cut that forecast further as the year progresses.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). This article originally appeared on CFR’s Asia Unbound blog, here.

Image: Flickr/Guanlong D.​

TopicsEconomics RegionsAsia

Confirmed: Pakistan Is Building 'Battlefield Nukes' to Deter India

The Buzz

As the world remains focused on preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, South Asia’s dangerous nuclear rivalry—between India and Pakistan—grows ever more deadly. General Khalid Kidwai, a top advisor to the Pakistani government, said this week that Pakistan needed short-range tactical nuclear weapons, also known as “battlefield nukes” to deter nuclear archrival India.

Kidwai said that “having tactical weapons would make war less likely,” at a conference on nuclear security organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Kidwai administered Pakistan’s nuclear and missile weapons program for fifteen years.

Pakistan’s tactical weapon development includes the Nasr Missile, which has a range of around 37 miles (60 kilometers) and reflects concerns in Pakistan that “India’s larger military could still wage a conventional war against the country, thinking Pakistan would not risk retaliation with a bigger nuclear weapon.”

Pakistan especially fears and aims to neutralize India’s “Cold Start” doctrine, a type of blitzkrieg that aims to advance fast enough into Pakistan to seize key installations before a retaliatory nuclear strike.

Unlike India, which has a no first use nuclear doctrine, Pakistan has repeatedly said that it would retaliate against India with nuclear weapons if enough of its territory were lost. Tactical nuclear weapons would also neutralize Indian forces on the battlefield, even in Pakistan itself, and would seriously disrupt India’s tactical maneuverability.

India has criticized Pakistan’s stance on battlefield nukes. Rakesh Sood, former Indian special envoy for disarmament and nonproliferation, said it was "extremely destabilizing for any country to develop tactical nuclear weapons" and that India had no plans to do so. He also argued that Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is “cloaked in ambiguity,” undermining confidence between the two countries.

Despite Kidwai’s assertion that such weapons would make war unlikely, Peter Lavoy, a former U.S. defense official questioned if “whether such intermingling of conventional forces and nuclear weapons in a battlefield could increase the risk of nuclear war.”

Kidwai’s statement is in line with Pakistan’s recent aggressive expansion of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is a major cause for concern for the rest of the world, amid fears that its weapons can fall into the wrong hands.

Kidwai, however, rejected this and insisted that adequate safeguards were in place. However, Pakistan’s aggressive expansion of its nuclear capacity could continue to make South Asia a much more dangerous place, escalating tensions with India. Earlier in March, Pakistan tested a Shaheen-III missile, which has a range of about 1,700 miles. This would enable Pakistan to hit any part of India with a nuclear warhead, while also placing Israel within range.

Shahid Latif, a retired commander in the Pakistani Air Force, said that “now, India doesn’t have its safe havens anymore.” According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Pakistan actually has more nuclear weapons—120—than India (110). This is despite its more meager resource and economic base, and in line with the famous statement made by former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972, that “even if we have to eat grass, we will make nuclear bombs.”

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

U.S. Naval Base Is Under Threat...And It's Britain's Fault

The Buzz

The naval base on Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean is one of the most strategically important U.S. military installations in the world. But the base’s future might just have been thrown into question by a seemingly unrelated international ruling that the British government, which is sovereign over Diego Garcia, acted illegally by unilaterally announcing the creation of an environmental protection zone in the territory back in 2010.

Diego Garcia is the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago, a British Overseas Territory that also happens to be claimed by neighboring Mauritius. In April 2010, London declared the creation of a “no-take” marine protected area (MPA) in the entire archipelago (except for a three-mile exemption around the base on Diego Garcia) ostensibly in order to better protect the “pristine” coral reefs of the Great Chagos Bank—the largest coral atoll structure in the world. The proposal was supported by high-profile environmentalist groups like Pew Environment and Greenpeace, and had been cleared with top U.S. officials in advance of the announcement.

The problem is that Mauritius never consented to the creation of the MPA. Pointing to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Port Louis insisted that London had a duty to take its legitimate interests in Chagos into consideration before making consequential decisions regarding the territory’s governance—not least of all because London has formally undertaken to cede the islands, including Diego Garcia, to Mauritius once they are no longer needed for military purposes. Britain dismissed Mauritius’s claims and pressed ahead with the MPA.

But in its ruling, the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague has endorsed the Mauritian point of view—that is, it was illegal for Britain to act unilaterally in Chagos by not properly consulting Mauritius. After all, if all parties agree that Mauritius will one day govern the territory, then it stands to reason that Port Louis has a very real interest in what happens in Chagos in the meantime. As such, steps should have been taken to ameliorate Mauritian concerns regarding the MPA. Britain had no right to act unilaterally.

This ruling—which, importantly, is binding on both parties—could have potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the base on Diego Garcia. For if Britain acted illegally by creating a relatively benign marine protection zone in Chagos, would it not also be illegal to act unilaterally to take much more portentous decisions regarding the future of the U.S. military in the archipelago? Far from being a hypothetical scenario, this question is actually of critical importance, given that the present executive agreement governing U.S. usage of Diego Garcia is up for renewal in 2016 and so will have to be renewed imminently.

As a general rule, London has always governed the Chagos Islands in a way that grants the U.S. military the maximum possible leeway. Legal restrictions on what the United States can and cannot do on Diego Garcia are few and far between. Indeed, the plan to create an MPA in Chagos was sold to U.S. officials partly on the grounds that it would help to buttress this legal and political “black hole.”

Contrary to British officials’ faithful intentions towards their American counterparts, however, it turns out that London might have dropped the ball in quite spectacular fashion. Instead of safeguarding the future of the naval facility on Diego Garcia—an alleged black site, it should not be forgotten—the decision to push through the Chagos MPA against regional opposition appears to have achieved the exact opposite outcome. International and domestic pressure to rethink the political arrangement regarding Diego Garcia is bound to mount now that Britain has been found in breach of international law, especially given renewed interest in allowing the indigenous population of the islands to resettle their homeland after fifty years in exile. In short, the future of Diego Garcia is in greater doubt now than at any other time in its history. And the quandary is entirely of London’s own making.

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