The US gets real with its latest missile test, Croatia rolls in the German tanks and Japan bolsters its forces.
The US navy has conducted plenty of missile-defence tests over the past decade but its most recent is arguably the most important. The new Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) streaked out of the destroyer USS John Paul Jones to intercept and destroy its target, a ballistic missile in its terminal phase.
That last point is crucial: virtually all previous interceptions have been against ballistic missiles flying far overhead on their way to destroy a fictional target. The difference in this test was that the ballistic missile in question had a decidedly familiar target: the USS John Paul Jones itself. As Robin Hughes, the editor of IHS Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, says: “You’re trying to shoot a bullet flying towards you and if you miss that bullet, you’re toast.”
It is a particularly pressing challenge for the US navy because China, its great rival in the Asia-Pacific region, is the only country that can claim a ballistic anti-ship missile capability: its DF-21. That weapon is designed expressly to kill aircraft carriers and as such threatens the potent symbol of US naval power.
Up until the success of this latest test the US navy had little more than a fig-leaf of a defence against the DF-21, in the shape of its earlier SM-2 Block IVA. This interceptor was, however, only a temporary fix and just a handful were ever available to the navy.
By contrast, SM-6 is a fully programmed acquisition and Raytheon has already delivered more than 160 of them, with another series of orders in the pipeline.
“The DF-21 has a reported range of over 2,000km and is assessed as the most significant over-the-horizon threat to US carrier strike groups,” says Hughes. “Carrier groups are incredibly well defended but [the DF-21] is supposed to be China’s silver-bullet weapon to get through those defences. The SM-6 will help but, of course, nothing is fully proofed against attack.”
Two of Japan’s biggest defence companies have seen their incomes rise this year. Increased sales of missiles helped Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, while Kawasaki Heavy Industries put the growth down to the continuing strength of the market for component parts for Boeing’s 777 and 787, as well as the Japanese Ministry of Defence’s expenditure on arms. The recent depreciation of the yen, meanwhile, has meant that exports have become more competitive, leading to stronger sales abroad.
Japan’s MoD is currently on something of a spending spree, upgrading and returning sections of its air force – notably its F-2 fighters – to serviceability after they were damaged by the 2011 tsunami, as well as expanding its ballistic-missile defences. These defences are being bolstered as Japan hedges against a belligerent North Korea and an increasingly confident China.
Croatia’s Defence Ministry has received its first batch of six PZH 2000 self-propelled howitzers from the German Bundeswehr. The acquisition of 12 units is worth around €41m. According to defence minister Ante Kotromanovic, the new artillery will significantly increase the strike range of Croatia’s military. But analysts say the purchase also serves to strengthen one of Croatia’s most important diplomatic and military ties.
“Croatia and Germany have long co-operated with one another, both politically and on security,” says Sandro Knezovic of Zagreb-based think-tank the Institute for Development and International Relations. And the relationship is just as valuable for Berlin. “Germany sees Croatia as a stabilising force in the region,” he adds. “And as an EU and Nato member, it’s a role model for other Balkan countries.”
Norway’s armed forces are facing wide-ranging reforms as President Putin in neighbouring Russia acts increasingly provocatively near the border. Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide is well aware of the challenges her job brings.
How much of a threat is Putin’s Russia to Norway?
We don’t see any military threat from Russia towards Norway but at the same time we see a Russia that is creating uncertainty about its intentions. It is willing to use military force in order to achieve its political goals. The fact that it breaks international law [in Crimea] is something that the international community needs to react to. A country like Norway depends heavily on international law to function and we cannot have a situation where bigger states can take what they want.
What are the greatest challenges facing Norway’s armed forces?
We are seeing a different security-policy landscape in our region but we are also seeing a terrorist threat that comes from many weak and failed states on the southern flank of Nato. We need to be able to respond to both. Everything we do at the moment is in order to enhance our operational capabilities.
Norway has a small population (5.1 million) spread over a large territory. Are the armed forces capable of defending it?
Only one or two countries have had the ability to defend themsleves alone. The point of Nato is solidarity and that an attack on one country is an attack on Nato as an alliance. That is what we build our defences on.