Has Iran found a way to circumvent sanctions when it comes to fighter jets? Plus, New Zealand’s pilots get a boost, the UK’s arms exports are taking off and Sri Lanka is becoming a focal point for defence in Asia.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force (rnzaf) is buying a flight simulator from Montréal company cae to train pilots to fly nh90 helicopters. The 700mr Series nh90 simulator will cost the government nz$42.7m (€24.3m) and space has been made at rnzaf Base Ohakea on the North Island. Minister of defence Ron Mark expects the simulator to be ready by 2020.
The air force will undoubtedly benefit. Pilots are currently sent to Australia or Germany to train or use the air force’s actual helicopters, which then aren’t operational during the training.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani recently – and proudly – attended an inauguration ceremony for what Iran claims is a new fighter jet.
Known as Kowsar, the jet was hailed as Iran’s first all-indigenous aircraft and described as a fourth-generation fighter, putting it in the same bracket as the US f-15 and Russian Su-27, though it bears a resemblance to the Northrop F-5s delivered to the Shah’s Imperial Iranian Air Force in the 1960s.
Iran’s Hesa aircraft factory has been manufacturing F-5-based fighters called Azarakhsh since 1997. The country has a reputation for reverse engineering and keeping aircraft in service for remarkable lengths of time and through decades of swingeing sanctions. For example, as well as its fleets of F-5s, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force still operates a fleet of Grumman f-14 Tomcats – made famous by 1986 action flick Top Gun – 12 years after the US Navy retired its own versions for being too complex and expensive. However, all of those aircraft are remanufactured, cannibalised from older parts or maintained with local content rather than built from scratch.
The Kowsar, then, is important not so much for the performance and capabilities it might offer – current-generation fighters should easily outclass it – but because it is said to be made entirely within Iran. If that’s true and even the engines are made in Iran rather than refurbished, it will present a step change in engineering capability for the country and pose an interesting challenge for US advocates of tighter, new sanctions.
Sri Lanka has become a focal point of defence diplomacy in the Indian Ocean, with Japan and India stepping up attempts to counterbalance Chinese engagement in the region.
On 21 August, Itsunori Onodera became the first Japanese defence minister to visit Sri Lanka, stopping off after meeting his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman. Onodera announced a pledge to bilaterally boost maritime security with Sri Lanka and, more importantly, visited strategic ports Hambantota, Colombo and Trincomalee.
A Chinese state-owned holding company signed a 99-year lease to take over Hambantota in late 2017 – after India declined Sri Lanka’s offers to let them run it – and Chinese investment is flooding in to develop Colombo Port, essentially cementing Sri Lanka as another pearl in China’s strategic string.
Yet India won’t be completely left out. “India is pursuing a $2bn [€1.7bn] investment for the development of the port, oil terminals and refinery at Trincomalee,” says Viraj Solanki, research analyst for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Japan, alongside India, is looking at Trincomalee as a counterweight to China’s growing influence.”
The UK is a recurrent entry on the list of the world’s top 10 arms exporters – and 2017 was a bumper year. British defence exports surged by 53 per cent, with the UK now ranked behind only the US and Russia. Britain’s biggest customers were Saudi Arabia, India and Qatar, with aircraft the dominant purchase, accounting for 91 per cent of trade. “The biggest thing is the sale of Typhoons to Qatar,” says Trevor Taylor, research fellow in defence management at the Royal United Services Institute. “With the Typhoon, there’s competition from the US f-35 but it has a future.”