Russia Unveils its First Ever Combat UAV; What to Expect from the Korsar Attack Drone
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
24 May 2018
A number of global powers have long made use of attack drones for military operations, which came to symbolise the Obama administration's foreign policy from 2009 and have since proliferated widely as a cost effective and relatively risk free means of launching airstrikes. Today combat drones are primarily produced by the United States, Israel, China and Iran, and have been used in conflicts from West Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia and deployed extensive across the Pacific. Russia's armed forces have been conspicuous in their absence from the list of operators of combat UAVS, and the Russian military has yet to incorporate such platforms into its combat doctrine or find uses for such aircraft. Use of drones has been restricted to the army's unmanned combat vehicles and more recently the navy's nuclear armed submarines. This appears about to change however, as the Russian military is to unveil its first ever combat drone, the Korsar (Corsair), on its May 9th Victory Day parade where new pieces of hardware have often made their first appearances. The drone is not only set to serve in the Russian military, but could well also become a valuable export platform to contend with U.S., Chinese and Israeli products for export.
The Korsar was designed as a 200kg combat UAV with a six and a half meter wingspan, and its airframe makes extensive use of composite materials to reduce its weight and increase its durability. The platform will be able to operate in a strike role, deploying both guided and unguided munitions, as well as highly altitude reconnaissance similar to the U.S. RQ-170. It will make use of existing air to ground munitions deployed by Russia's existing strike platforms, which have been modified to be deployed by the Korsar. The drone is also designed to perform an electronic warfare role, and will have a combat radius of 200km - a relatively short range. While it appears to be somewhat lacking in its combat capabilities compared to costly long range heavy platforms such as the U.S. Reaper and Chinese Sharp Sword, as a low cost and short range light combat drone it may well prove highly effective.
A second variant of the Korsar has been designed with the same fuselage but make use of rotary rather than find wings. This 'helicopter drone' will likely lack the speed and altitude of the fixed wing variant, but will be able to operate without airfields including from the decks of warships. This platform will be ideal from deployment near frontline, as a fast and relatively low cost strike platform capable of carrying advanced munitions. Reports have indicated that the Korsar will be a near disposable weapons system, and with an extremely low production cost could well be deployed to highly contested war zones to perform strikes where the Russian military would not want to risk more advanced and costly combat platforms such as manned aircraft. While the Korsar is the first Russian made drone capable of carrying unguided bombs and fulfilling a strike role, whether Russia is capable of or will seek to produce higher end combat drones remains to be seen. Indeed, the Korsar may well be a stepping stone for Russian military industries as they seek to develop more sophisticated aerial warfare platforms - though whether it will be able to catch up to and contend with highly sophisticated American and Chinese producers remains to be seen.
Why Israel Most Likely Hasn’t Deployed F-35 Jets for Combat
Middle East , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
24 May 2018
The Israeli Air Force is currently estimated to have acquired approximately a dozen Lockheed Martin F-35 fifth generation light fighters, an next generation equivalent to its long serving F-16 Falcon single engine platform with an important role in the country’s military modernisation efforts under its Gideon Doctrine. With Israel perceiving a growing threat on its borders and tensions between Tel Aviv and its adversaries continuing to escalate, sources from the Israeli Air Force have reported that the F-35 has been deployed for its first combat missions to support ongoing airstrikes against Syrian and Iranian targets near the country’s borders. Israeli Air Force Commander Major General Amikam Norkin said at the AF Senior Air Force Conference in late May 2018 regarding the deployment: “We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It had become part of our operational capabilities.” He further stressed that Israel had deployed the new fighter over enemy territory offensively, stating: “We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts.”
While the targets allegedly struck by the Israeli F-35 were not specified, General Norkin’s claims would if true make Israel the first country in the world to deploy the fighter in combat. The general further stated that Israel was “managing a campaign against Iranian forces, especially on Israel’s northern (Syrian) border,” indicating the theatre where the new fighters were most likely deployed.
While the Israeli Air Force may well field a small contingent of combat ready F-35 fighters, claims that they have been deployed to enemy territory remain highly questionable. The F-35 is one of just two Western fifth generation fighters, alongside the F-22 Raptor twin engine heavy fighter, which the Western bloc is set to rely on in the coming decades to retain a technological advantage over future adversaries. With the F-22’s production having been terminated prematurely, the F-35 remains the only Western fifth generation fighter currently in production, and the importance of its technologies to the Western Bloc’s security interests therefore cannot be overstated. The F-35 program is so critical in fact that over $1.6 trillion are expected to be invested in it over its lifetime - making it by far the most expensive weapons program in world history. Any action which could potentially compromise the F-35, or lead Western military rivals such as Russia or Iran to gain significant intelligence regarding its capabilities, would therefore be strongly opposed by the United States which supplied the fighters to Israel.
To understand why deploying the F-35 to hostile territory, and over Syrian or Lebanese airspace at Israel’s northern border in particular, could undermine its capabilities, one need only look to the consequences of the F-22 Raptor’s deployment to Syrian airspace by the United States Air Force. American Raptors based in the United Arab Emirates have flown a number of sorties into Syrian airspace, both as a show of force in response to the Russian military presence in the country and to strike targets of Islamist insurgent groups. Prominent figures in the U.S. Air Force leadership have noted that deploying the F-22 for combat operations to the country, where Russia has deployed extensive surveillance equipment including some of its most advanced air defence radar systems capable, has seriously undermined the platform’s viability by providing Moscow with valuable intelligence on the aircraft. U.S. Air Force Lt. General VeraLinn Jamieson stated to this effect: "The skies over Iraq and specifically Syria have really just been a treasure trove for them to see how we operate. Our adversaries are watching us, they're learning from us... Russia has gained invaluable insights and information with operating in a contested airspace alongside of us in Syria." The secrecy of the elite fifth generation fighter’s manoeuvres, radar evading systems and weapons deployment were lost - a major blow to the effectiveness of the air superiority fighter. Russia was able to test the limits of the Raptor’s stealth, learn how the platform was designed to operate and better develop countermeasures against the F-22. It could potentially even use this information to incorporate successful aspects of the design onto its own next generation fighter.
Considering the magnitude of the loss which resulted from deploying the F-22 for combat operations to Syria, and the ‘treasure trove of information’ provided to America’s adversaries, deployment of the F-35 for combat operations to the very same warzone just months later remains highly unlikely. Radar systems from Russian S-300V and S-400 air defence systems are able to cover all of Israeli and Lebanese airspace and the vast majority of Syria itself. Flying the F-35 on combat missions over this area would inevitably provide Russia with valuable information regarding the fighter’s capabilities. Iranian air defence systems are also reportedly active in the region, and the chance to test anti stealth measures against the F-35 could well prove a major asset for Tehran - arguably outweighing the losses incurred from Israeli airstrikes.
The only way Israel could deny its adversaries information on the fighter’s radar evading systems would be to operate the F-35 without its stealth capabilities, deploying the fighter with Luneburg Lenses and possibly even externally mounted weapons systems and fuel tanks to compromise its stealth profile and thus prevent hostile radars from testing its stealth systems. Doing so however presents its own significant risks, which the Israeli Air Force is unlikely to take, as without stealth the F-35 is by a significant margin the least survivable of all modern fighter aircraft. The platform is slow, unmaneouvehable and restricted to flying at low altitudes making it by far the most vulnerable in the Israeli Air Force - and putting it in serious danger when operating against Syrian air defences in a highly contested combat zone. With Syrian surface to air missile systems having already downed a number of Israeli aircraft, the F-35 would fare poorly in such a combat zone with its stealth systems compromised. Other fighters such as the F-15I strike fighter, with its high speed, altitude and payload and lack of sensitive stealth systems, would be far better suited for such combat missions.
Ultimately it appears highly unlikely that the Israeli Air Force could have deployed the F-35 for combat operations, and had it done so it would have provided an invaluable opportunity for Russia and its allies to study the stealth fighter’s capabilities and risked seriously undermining the entire $1.6 trillion fighter program. The United States for its part has held its F-35 fighters back from combat missions, and while the country’s small F-22 fleet may well be expected to see a sixth generation replacement within the next two decades thousands of F-35 fighters are expected to be deployed and remain in service until 2050 - possibly longer. The risks from deploying a combat ready F-35 to a theatre such as Syria with a heavy Russian military presence therefore, for limited strike missions against relatively poorly defended Iranian assets, remains hardly worth the risk - and a choice the Israeli Air Force would have been unlikely to make.
Russia to Upgrade its Admiral Kuznetsov Carrier with State of the Art Air Defence and Cruise Missile Systems
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Naval
23 May 2018
Russia is to upgrade its sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov warship, which it inherited from the Soviet Navy in 1991 following the USSR's dissolution. While the warship is based on a near identical design to China’s Liaoling and Type 001 carriers, the Russian warship has long left much to be desired in its capabilities compared to its Chinese counterparts - with the Russian Navy far more restricted in its access to funding for modernisation. China's People's Liberation Army's far greater emphasis on enhancing naval capabilities, where for geographical reasons Russia has focused more on the ground and air, remains another major factor in the current state of the Kuznetsov. The Chinese carriers as a result today deploy far more modern cruise missiles, air defences and combat aircraft, with China’s J-15 Flying Tiger carrier based far surpassing the capabilities of Russia’s older Su-33. Indeed, the Russian Su-33 heavy carrier based fighter is set to be retired entirely, leaving the Admiral Kuznetsov to rely in cheaper and less capable light fighters were Chinese carriers deploy elite and more sophisticated air superiority aircraft. China’s carrier has meanwhile continued to deploy new systems including fixed wing radar early warning aircraft, the KJ-600, and carrier based electronic warfare aircraft, the J-15D. Russia’s carrier is today much in need of an upgrade, and refurbishment could well help to close the gap between the Admiral Kuznetsov and its Chinese counterparts.
Refurbishment of Russia’s carrier will be completed in 2021, and changes are set to be extensive and all encompassing. Russian Navy Deputy Commander in Chief Viktor Bursuk stated regarding the extent of the planned work: "Its air defences will be improved and new shipborne Pantsir systems will be installed on it. Besides, its power-generating equipment will be replaced by new boilers, a number of new pumps and new flight control systems: landing, surveillance, control systems and so on.” Alongside the Pantsir, the Russian warship is also set to integrate new 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles to significantly strengthen its long range strike capabilities - fitting in with a long history of Russian and Soviet naval doctrine. While Western aircraft carriers such as the U.S. Nimitz Class and French Charles De Gaulle have been scantly armed, relying on large carrier strike groups to engage enemy warships at sea, Russian carriers have always been designed to operate more independantly and if needed engage enemy warships, and carry a complement of advanced anti ship weapons to facilitate this.
In service since 2012, only Russia’s newest or most recently refurbished warships have deployed Kalibr cruise missiles and Pantsir air defence systems - platforms set to seriously enhance the performance of the Soviet build warship. Anti ship variants of the Kalibr are capable of travelling at speeds of Mach 2.9, allowing them to disable most warships with a single strike with the sheer force of their kinetic energy. The missiles were designed as sea skimmers with a flight altitude of just 4.6 meters, making them extremely difficult to detect, much less intercept, by enemy warships. They carry a 200kg warhead, and are set to be deployed in large numbers by the Kuznetsov. While Russia’s surface vessels, the Kuznetsov included, are in many ways less capable than the U.S. and Chinese counterparts, falling behind since the Soviet Union’s collapse as Russia focused more on its submarine building capabilities, the deployment of more sophisticated and powerful cruise missiles does much to mitigate this disadvantage.
While the Soviet Union’s large warships, including carriers and destroyers, were built and largely serviced in Ukraine, Russia today is seeking to enhance its capabilities in the field of shipbuilding. The Kuznetsov’s servicing is set to take place in the 35th Ship Repairing Yard in Murmansk city. With the future of Russia’s plans to build a supercarrier based on the SHTORM design uncertain, the Russian Navy has sought to extend the Admiral Kuznetsov’s life to ensure its carrier aviation is not entirely lost - a base which would be extremely difficult to rebuild if all carriers were retired. Refurbishment is set to provide a considerable life extension for the warship, and is set to address some of the warships biggest problems. This includes installation of a new propulsion system to replace the troubled one currently in service, with all eight turbo pressurised boilers currently in use to be removed.
The Future of the South Korean Navy; Does Seoul Seek Global Power Projection Capabilities?
Asia-Pacific , Naval
23 May 2018
South Korea today retains one of the largest armed forces in the world, and its fast growing domestic military industries have in recent years developed some of the world’s most capable weapons systems from the KAI T-50 Trainer/ Light Combat Aircraft to the Sejong the Great Class destroyers and K2 Black Panther battle tanks. In the mid 2000s the Republic of Korea Navy commissioned Dokdo Class helicopter carrier/ amphibious assault ships, the first of their kind in the country’s history, which would become some of the most sophisticated assault vessels in the world. Designed by Hanjin Heavy Industries, the Dokodo Class each displace 18,800 tons, deploy 720 marines and can carry up to 10 helicopters for combat and search and rescue operations. Some reports have indicated that the ships can in fact operate up to 15 helicopters without compromising efficiency.
Despite being a similar size and having similar, if not slightly superior, capabilities to the French Mistral Class, the South Korean Dokdo Class have been produced at approximately half the cost of the European warships - a testament to the cost effectiveness of Korean shipbuilding - particularly relative to those of Western Europe. The first Dokdo Class warship, ROKS Dokdo, was commissioned in 2007, while the second, ROKS Marado, was launched in May 2018. The warships can sail at almost 41km per hour, and are heavily armed with a 20mm Phalanx close in weapons system and a 30mm Goalkeeper gun. The relatively short range of the warship's defences means it will rely on accompanying destroyers for air defence. The Dokdo Class currently deploy UH-1 and UH-60 helicopters, though they are set to accommodate navalised variants of the indigenous Surion and potentially even dedicated attack helicopters in future.
The commissioning of the Dokdo Class warships has been hailed as potentially the first step towards developing a blue water navy, and South Korea's naval might is restricted primarily by its lack of naval ambitions rather than technological or financial constraints. With the military’s primary task being combatting North Korea in the case of war on the peninsula, Seoul has perceived little need for a blue water Navy capable of deploying aircraft and projecting force far from its shores. There have however been some signs that this may change in future, particularly in the early 2000s when development of the carrier warships begun. In a speech delivered in March 2001, then President Kim Dae Jung expressed his goal to make South Korea a world power with a Navy which "will defend the national interests in the five oceans and perform a role in defending world peace." He noted that by the year 2020, the navy would deploy two or three rapid response fleets each comprised of one Dokdo Class serving as flagship alongside two Sejong the Great Class, four Chungmugong Yi Sun Sin Class, one Gwanggaeto the Great Class destroyers - accompanied by lighter Incheon Class frigates and two to three Type 214 submarines.
President Kim Dae Jung’s aspirations appear not to have been taken forward by his successors, with the Dokdo Class carrier program temporary halted after the first warship’s completion and the third warship cancelled entirely. A report by Korean news agency Yonhap in December 2017 however noted that the Korean military was considering modifying the Dokdo Class to operate F-35B short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) stealth fighters. Unlike other warships operating the F-35B, the Dokdo lacks the size to operate them efficiently, and unlike the Japanese Izumo Class it was not built to accommodate the fighters. While converting the Dokdo Class into fixed wing aircraft carriers is highly unlikely, the warships could well be the first of many carrier warships produced by South Korea and provide Seoul with an excellent stepping stone from which to pursue development of larger and more capable carrier warships should it for any reason seek to pursue blue water power projection capabilities and the accompanying global power status. Indeed, given that the warship class has been named after a disputed island chain also claimed by Japan, itself a fast growing carrier power, the Dokdo Class could well be seen as an attempt by South Korea to retain parity at sea with its larger neighbour - in which case the commissioning of more carriers remains a distinct possibility given the fast growth of the Japanese fleet.
Considering the size of the South Korean economy, ground forces and military budget, development of blue water capabilities and lager carrier warships remains highly feasible should it be seen as a desirable course of action. Such warships could potentially operate catapults and conventional takeoff fixed wing aircraft such as the F-35C or carrier based variants of the indigenous KAI KF-X stealth fighter, though other than prestige South Korea’s uses for such warships at present remain unclear. It is also highly possible that the Dokdo Class will be the beginning and the end of the Korean carrier program, at least for the coming years, and that Seoul will continue to focus its military’s efforts on preparing for an inter-Korean conflict with the fast modernising North Korean military rather than pursuing global power projection capabilites.
President Putin Orders Preparation of Russia’s New S-500 Missile System for Mass Production
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Missile and Space
22 May 2018
Following on from a long line of long range surface to air missile platforms, from the S-25 commissioned under Joseph Stalin to the S-400 Triumf which entered service in 2006, Russia’s Air Defence Force is set to induct the most capable system yet - the S-500 Prometheus. With air defence platforms today serving as perhaps the most iconic symbols of Russian military power and technological sophistication in the defence sector, weapons systems unrivalled elsewhere and sought out by several traditional Western clients as well as Russia’s own military partners, the S-500’s entry into active service is set to be a landmark event. While the S-500 has seen a number of delays in its development, a result of the extremely complexity of the system and the highly ambitious performance requirements, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the Prometheus to enter mass production in the near future.
President Putin stated regarding Russia’s need for the S-500 in a meeting on May 15th: "One of the key tasks is to improve anti precision warfare means. It is necessary to develop and build up technological groundwork in the area of air defence, to continue modernisation of Pantsir (medium range) systems, to finish the development and preparations for mass production of the S-500 newest systems capable of hitting targets at super high altitudes, including near the earth space.” Reports indicate that early stage production of the Prometheus has already begun at a number of Russian facilities. The S-500 is set to serve primarily as an anti ballistic missile platform, replacing the A-135 which entered service in 1995. The system will also be capable of targeting aircraft and low flying satellites at extreme ranges. With a planned engagement range of 600km, the weapons system will exceed the formidable 400km range of the S-400, which itself surpasses all rival platforms by a significant margin. The U.S. THAAD system, a platform with a comparable role to the S-500, is restricted to a range of under 200km.
The S-500 is of particular strategic importance to Russia given the recent redoubling of efforts by the Western bloc to develop hypersonic cruise and intercontinental ballistic missiles for nuclear delivery. Russia’s induction of a number of hypersonic weapons systems, including the Mach 20 Avangard ICBM and the Kinzhal ‘Carrier Killer’ air launched platform among several others, spurred Western militaries to redouble their efforts to develop hypersonic weapons platforms to close the gap between their strike capabilities and those fielded by Moscow’s forces. While systems such as the S-400, S-300V and A-135 are all currently sufficient to deal with missile threats posed by platforms such as the U.S. Minuteman III ICBM, should the Western bloc begin to induct hypersonic missiles Russia would require a greater degree of protection. The S-500 will thus prove an invaluable asset, and is set to be the world’s first air defence platform capable of intercepting hypersonic missile attacks. While projectiles travelling at extreme speeds such as the Avangard will be well beyond the S-500’s capabilities to target, the air defence system is designed to be able to intercept hypersonic platforms travelling at little over Mach 5. Whether the S-500 will see the same amount of foreign interest as its predecessors, and whether it will be modified into a specialised anti aircraft variant for export, remains to be seen.
Israel Seeks to Double Overstretched F-15I Strike Fleet; Proposes $4 Billion Boeing Contract for 25 Additional Fighters
Middle East , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
22 May 2018
Amid growing tensions with regional adversaries, the Israeli Air Force has launched increasingly frequent strikes on Syrian territory in recent months on a scale unprecedented since the early 1980s. While the Israeli Air Force’s most prized assets were once the F-15A and F-15C heavy air superiority fighters, which guaranteed an advantage over the air forces of neighbouring states such as Egypt and Syria which relied on the lighter and less capable F-16 and MiG-23 respectively, as the nature of Israel’s adversaries has changed so too have the requirements of its air force. With the possible exception of Sudan, none of Israel’s existing or former adversaries have taken steps to acquire a modern air superiority fleet to challenge the F-15, and the supremacy of Israeli fighters in the sky remains effectively unchallenged. Russia’s unwillingness to provide Syria with MiG-31 interceptors in the early 2000s, an advanced platform capable of challenging the F-15, guaranteed Israeli supremacy in the skies would continue.
Israel’s most prized fighter today, at a time when the main threat to its security comes not from enemy air fleets but rather from the ground forces and missile emplacements of Iran and a number of its allies, is not the F-15 air superiority fighter, but rather the F-15I - a dedicated strike platform developed based on the F-15’s airframe but with an entirely different role. The F-15I was developed based on the U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle, and incorporates a number of indigenous systems including Israeli electronic warfare suites which make it one of the most capable strike fighters in the world. The fighter was commissioned shortly after the end of the 1991 Gulf War, and allows Israel to launch sorties at both very low and very high altitudes deep into enemy territory across the Middle East. It was the F-15I which would have been relied on to carry out strikes against Iranian targets should Israel have sought to take preventative military action against the country's nuclear facilities, with the F-16 lacking the range, payload and survivability to launch such a strike.
While highly prized, the F-15I’s cost has restricted Israel’s ability to obtain the fighter in large numbers. Only 25 of the elite strike fighters are currently in service, while the Air Force fields 58 air superiority variants of the F-15 - a poor reflection of Israel’s defence needs today. The strike fleet is increasingly overstretched, and Israel has been forced to withdraw its fighters from joint exercises in the United States to conserve them for strike missions domestically. As a result the Israeli Defence Force has sought to acquire a further 25 F-15I strike fighters under a $4 billion contract with Boeing, which would also provide for upgrades to Israel’s existing F-15I fighters. Since the original F-15I was commissioned in the 1990s a number of enhancements to the design have been applied to later models, with the most capable variant today most likely being the South Korean F-15K Slam Eagle - which uses 40% Korean made components. While the upgraded F-15I’s ability to contend with the F-15K remains highly questionable, it will be considerably more capable than the fighters currently operated by Israel.
The Israeli Air Force has prioritised acquiring more F-15I strike fighters over purchases of the F-35 light stealth fighter, with the latter severely lacking in its range, payload, operational altitude and speed relative to the strike platform and thus far less suited to the country’s immediate defence needs. While the F-35’s cost rivals that of the F-15I, it is poorly suited to air superiority and heavy strike roles and is to serve as a replacement for the F-16 light multirole fighter. With several leading figures in the Israeli military expressing serious doubts regarding the F-35’s capabilities, despite Washington’s eagerness to market its new fighter abroad, Israel’s immediate security needs demand more F-15I fighters and soon. The F-35’s usefulness in the current combat climate remains negligible by comparison, and the slow, high maintenance and low flying light fighter will be unable to deliver strikes against the growing Iranian aligned forces massing on Israel’s borders with anything near the same level of effectiveness as the tried and tested F-15I.
- Corruption Probe in South Korea Over Park Administration's Selection of Troubled F-35A Over Elite F-15 Silent Eagle
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