The continuing fight against piracy in the Horn of Africa, led by three international military coalitions, Poland's plans to modernise its Air Force, and the consequences of Japan's decision to relax its strict defence export laws.
Phase one of India’s mammoth naval base near Karwar was completed in 2005, a decade late. But a boost in the most recent defence budget has paved the way to expand “Project Seabird” into Asia’s largest navy installation. The second phase will cost €1.96bn.
Piracy around the Horn of Africa may no longer be headline news but, with seven vessels and 191 hostages still held by Somali pirates, the problem is far from solved.
Three international military coalitions – led by the US, Nato and the EU’s Naval Force (Navfor) – work in the region, aided by vessels from non-aligned nations, including China, Russia and India. Around 25 warships are patrolling the vast area at any one time. Yet, as EU Navfor chief of staff Captain Phil Haslam points out, this is “akin to policing Europe with 25 cars”. The force publishes guidelines which encourage using armed private security teams. To date, no ship with a security team has been pirated, but the measures add an estimated €1.26 to transporting every kilo of goods through the Gulf of Aden.
The EU effort is co-located with the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters on a secure compound in Northwood, on the edges of London. In the operations room, uniformed staff sit facing a wall-sized projection of a constantly updated map, showing the real-time locations of all ships in the Indian Ocean.
“We are having an impact and the pirates’ success rate is undoubtedly going down,” says Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, EU Navfor operational commander. “But it’s extremely reversible. Piracy is only one of the symptoms of a failed state, so a lot of our focus is on how we can contribute to better governance and security [in Somalia].”
- USA: Both the US Navy and Coastguard undertake counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
- Nato: Five nations and 800 personnel take part in operations.
- EU Naval Force: The force involves 23 EU nations. Its mandate runs until the end of 2012.
Poland has announced plans to modernise its Air Force. Under the multi billion-zloty arms procurement package, the Polish Ministry of Defence will acquire new transport aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and jet trainers. Poland’s aviation industry (see issue 51) is likely to win sub-contracts on the jet trainer deal, tenders for which will be launched later this year.
As military budgets continue to shrink, Belgium and the Netherlands are arguably establishing a future model for European defence by pooling more of their resources. Having begun to unify their military operations in the 1990s, the two countries now plan to set up a joint rapid reaction force comprising F-16s, taking them further down the road to defence integration.
Britain appears well placed to be the first beneficiary of Japan’s decision to relax its strict defence export laws. Japan’s defence industry was previously barred from working with foreign countries on military programmes. But with that restriction now lifted the British government has proposed collaborating on four projects, including artillery development.
The alliance makes great sense: both countries have advanced technology to share but insufficient funds to develop it alone. The only possible pitfall is that Japan remains reluctant to sell defence equipment to most countries, meaning export potential for any jointly developed systems would be limited.
Russia has embarked on an ambitious regeneration strategy designed to reverse two decades of military decline. In March, Vladimir Putin made Russia’s military comeback a core campaign issue.
Most Russian military equipment dates back to the Soviet era, so new kit is needed – and the military looks set to receive everything it has been asking for and more. For the Air Force, that means 600 planes, including newly developed T-50 stealth fighters and 1,000 helicopters. The Army will receive thousands of new vehicles, among them a next-generation tank. The naval base at Kaliningrad will also be refurbished.