Briefing / Global
Norway’s sensitive border with Russia and materiel wealth in Botswana, Iran and Portugal.
Darwin — NAVAL EVENT
Some of the best warships, frigates and fighter jets bearing the flags of 20 nations will converge in the waters surrounding Darwin for Exercise Kakadu, starting in late August. Hosted by the Australian navy, the biennial maritime exercise includes Southeast Asian and Oceanic players as well as the US, France and Canada.
An exercise in co-operation, Kakadu is more than just fun and war games: this year’s edition appears to be a caution for absentee China. The country has continued construction on the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands, despite a ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague that rejected its territorial claims.
Botswana — AIR DEFENCE
Botswana is largely regarded as a placid nation, snugly landlocked and with no obvious enemies; after becoming independent in 1966 it took more than a decade to get around to establishing a defence force. The news that it is now negotiating to buy Gripen C/D fighters from Saab seems, therefore, counterintuitive.
Not according to Justin Bronk, research fellow at Rusi. “They are probably the best value-for-money jet fighters in the world,” he says. “It would enable Botswana to join operations alongside South Africa’s Gripens, as well as providing a counter to any future bullying from Zimbabwe, should relations deteriorate.”
Better safe than sorry
Norway — RUSSIAN RELATIONS
Given Russia’s forays in Crimea and the Caucasus, it would be forgivable if Norway was taking popular TV series Occupied – which depicts Moscow’s siege of the Nordic state – seriously. Oslo has recently announced plans to bolster defence spending and enhance security along its 200km border with what prime minister Erna Solberg has called “an increasingly unpredictable neighbour to the east”.
Solberg has said that while Russia poses no immediate threat, it has shown its willingness to “use force as a political tool”, which has raised concerns that Norway is not prepared to defend itself. The government’s proposed budget aims to change that, with an additional €18bn to be spent over the next 20 years; this will reportedly fund the purchase of 52 f-35 fighter jets, four submarines and naval surveillance planes. The plan would also see more Norwegian boots on the ground in northeastern Finnmark.
Erik Silfversten, a defence analyst at UK-based think-tank Rand Europe, says that countries in the region “perceive that Russia is increasingly challenging its territorial sovereignty and other national interests by violating Scandinavian airspace and waters”. This shared uneasiness, he adds, is deepening military ties between the Nordic states and with other defence partners. Sweden and Finland have been working more closely with Nato; at the pact’s summit in Warsaw in July, leaders from both countries were invited to sit at the top table for the first time. Meanwhile, Iceland – the only Nato member without an army – appears poised to welcome back the US navy to the Keflavik Naval Air Station a decade after it was closed down.
Vladimir Putin has hinted that he would move troops to the Nordic border if the US and its allies come any closer – but for now a Russian invasion of Scandinavia remains a small-screen storyline.
Portugal — AERONAUTICS
The kc-390 transport aircraft (a more nimble Hercules), which launched at the Farnborough International Airshow this summer, is being touted as a reflection of a growing aviation skills base in Portugal. It was conceived by Brazilian aeronautics company Embraer and about 10 Portuguese suppliers have been involved in the development of the aircraft, which has a twin-engine jet design unlike its turbo-prop rivals.
“This is an important moment for aeronautics in Portugal,” says Portuguese Aerospace Industry Association chairman José Rui Marcelino. “It is one of the first times we have seen Portuguese companies involved in an integrated way in a significant, long-term aeronautics programme.” He also points to Embraer’s ongoing investment in Portugal’s aeronautics industry – it has two factories here and has invested in aviation company ogma – as evidence of future growth.
A federal appeals court has found that the US navy was wrongly allowed to use sonar technology for training, testing and routine operations. The problem? It can harm whales and other marine life.