Our new military strategy column examines how the US might unwittingly encourage China to bolster its nuclear arsenal. Plus, what the armies of Europe are spending their money on, and the EDA members who have started their own "airlift club".
Monocle’s new monthly look at strategic affairs by the world’s leading think tanks
The US and Japan, with assistance from Australia, are working towards a ship and land-based ballistic missile defence system for the Asia-Pacific region – the major motivation is North Korea’s fondness for nuclear and missile technology (the Koreans are in no hurry to give up their projects and would be hard to trust even if they claimed they would). But there’s a potential downside to a system designed to protect against this “rogue state”.
A US-backed missile defence system in the Pacific would cause the Chinese to rethink their modest nuclear arsenal – they currently have a few dozen warheads on mobile launchers and submarines. While not the mutually assured destruction of the old US-USSR standoff, the stakes are currently more than enough to blunt the US nuclear arsenal as a tool of coercion against China.
But that picture changes if the US and its allies deploy a missile defence system capable of defeating a limited nuclear strike. China would see its nuclear deterrent as vulnerable to a pre-emptive first strike designed to destroy the majority of its missiles, with the defence system in place to mop up any surviving Chinese missiles.
There’s little doubt that China’s response would be to build more missiles. A US-led “defensive” system could diminish security in the Pacific. Japan, however, is keen to press ahead and Australia is likely to support the US.
Andrew Davies runs the Operations and Capability programme at the Australian Strategy Policy Institute
Twelve members of the European Defence Agency have agreed to club together and create a shared strategic airlift fleet. This will fill a huge shortfall in Europe’s transport capacity for defence and humanitarian missions – unbelievably, many European contributors to operations around the world rely on chartered transport aircraft and the goodwill of coalition partners to get stores into theatre and then support them there.
The participants are Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain. The scheme works like shared membership of private jets – the states “buy” hours on aircraft, with priority given to the members who stump up the most to join the club. The scheme will not be fully operational until 2017.
Lithuania’s royal arrivals
The tiny navy of Lithuania is bolstering its mine warfare capabilities by replacing its two 50-year-old Lindau-class boats with two of the UK Royal Navy’s former Hunt-class minehunters only half their age. The two vessels, hms Cottesmore and Dulverton (pictured), were paid off from UK service in 2005 and will be refitted and upgraded in the UK by Thales, before handover to Lithuania in 2010. They will be fitted with sonars able to lash through the sea to find even advanced, stealthy mines on the seabed, and have unmanned mini-submersibles to search out and destroy them.
Russia’s nuclear moves
The Russian Federation Navy has “lit off” the reactor and begun to warm up its first new Project 955 Borey-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine, Yuri Dolgoruky, ahead of sea trials planned before the end of the year. Originally laid down in 1996, funding issues and foundering development of the ballistic missiles it was to carry hampered the boat’s build and it was only floated out from the Severodvinsk-based Sevmash shipyard in February of last year. Russia’s strategic missile submarine fleet, once the pride of the navy, has atrophied through nearly two decades of neglect. Two more of the 19,500-ton Project 955 leviathans are currently in build.
Greece is the word
Europe’s biggest remaining frigate competition should be settled in 2009, when the Hellenic Navy is expected to select its new design. The navy recently scaled back its plans from six 6,000-ton hulls to a minimum of four, but the €2.2bn budget is expected to grow in line with capability requirements. Four main designs are in the frame, though there are two clear front runners who have already teamed with local yards: France’s dcns has joined with Elefsis Shipyards to bid the FREMM design, while Hellenic Shipyards and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems are offering the meko d. Netherlands-based Royal Schelde and Spain’s Navantia are also in the running.
Trial and jury in the UK
The remaining competitors for the UK Ministry of Defence’s major Operational Utility Vehicle System (OUVS) programme to completely recapitalise the defence utility vehicle fleets, will face off against each other in a “trials of truth” test series late this year. Up to 16,000 vehicles and a 25 year support contract are up for grabs.
Saudi Arabia could finally receive the first of 72 Eurofighter Typhoons this year. The US Department of Justice is believed to have had concerns after the UK began investigating – and then dropped – allegations that the deal had been corrupt.