Weapons Exports on the Rise – Part Two
In a show of defiance against the U.N. Security Council’s move to further tighten sanctions, North Korea said it would strengthen its nuclear capabilities by expanding heavy metal isotope production including uranium enrichment and would now begin to weaponize plutonium according to KCNA, the state-run North Korean news agency. When enriched to a high degree, uranium fissile material can be used in weapons-grade programs. Plutonium can be used in atomic bombs. North Korean officials have stated 30 kilograms of plutonium were produced at their five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon. However a U.S. estimate indicated a range of between 35 to 60 kilograms were available. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds. Approximately four to six kilograms are needed for a nuclear weapon.
Over the past 15 years North Korea has pledged several times to eliminate its nuclear program but disarmament talks have failed despite offers of aid in exchange for disarmament.
U.N. Resolution 1874 imposes an embargo on the shipment of arms from the communist regime and broadens a ban on the import of weapons, strengthening provisions already in U.N. Resolution 1718 passed in 2006. The new resolution requires states to “exercise vigilance” over the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to North Korea of small arms or light weapons. Weapons exporting nation states would be required to notify the U.N. sanctions committee at least five days prior to selling, supplying or transferring small arms or light weapons to North Korea. The resolution calls on all states to inspect vessels suspected of containing contraband. If a ship refuses, it is to proceed to the closest port for a mandatory inspection. A new regulation would prohibit nations from providing bunkering services, such as fuel to North Korean ships believed to be carrying contraband. The resolution also broadens authority to prevent the flow of funds that could benefit North Korea’s missile, nuclear or proliferation activities.
On 17 July, Japan released a defense white paper highlighting the serious threat North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile weapons now pose to the security of Japan and the region. The report warned that Pyongyang was quickly approaching the capability to deploy nuclear warheads, and asserted that North Korea had imported a variety of ballistic missile materials and technologies. In response to these emerging threats, Yoshiyuki Suzuki, the MOD’s Defense Councilor indicated that Japan would begin to make extensive use of the space domain to bolster its ballistic missile defense (BMD) and Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities following the enactment of the June 2008 basic space law. The dramatic expansion of the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was another topic of considerable analysis, with the paper discussing the impacts created from Beijing upgrading its combatant surface and sub-surface fleets with improved air-defense and anti-ship missile weapon systems, as well as preparations to deploy an aircraft carrier.
Moscow to Beijing: knock off the knockoffs
Following the resolution of concerns over the illegal reverse engineering and intellectual property theft of Su-27SK aircraft exported to China in the 1990’s and used as the basis for developing the J-11B fighter bomber, Russia’s state export agency has agreed to sell advanced Sukhoi Su-33 and Su-35 fighter aircraft to China according to Aleksandr Mikheyev, Rosoboronexport Deputy General Director.
China is currently able to field approximately 100 Russian SU-30MKK’s which were purchased between 2000 and 2004. These assets represent the best front-line multi-role air vehicle fleet they can deploy, even in the face of increasingly capable indigenously produced J-series aircraft. The addition of a more advanced SU-35 would establish a major capability advance for China’s air force. The carrier-based SU-33 is considered critical to the PLAN ambitions to deploy an aircraft carrier as China has no domestic expertise producing or sustaining carrier-based aircraft.
As China continues to aggressively pursue the development of an indigenous advanced weapons industry base, Moscow is faced with offering its most advanced systems or risk losing a very substantial customer. In a disclosure earlier this year, Rosoboronexport revealed that it had exported USD $16 Billion in arms to China since 2001.
The New Number Two
Based on data released in a recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China spent USD $84.9 Billion on defense last year, and has moved into the number two spot behind the United States among the world’s overall biggest defense spenders, overtaking France and the United Kingdom. Spending on defense, para-military and security programs throughout Asia rose five percent last year, out-performing the four percent rise in overall global spending. These statistics illustrate a larger trend that continues to accelerate, with Asian defense spending growth since 2000 approaching 50%, a year-on-year growth rate trend expected to continue. China has already committed to a 15% increase in defense spending next year. Taiwan has responded in turn with a defense spend increase of USD $1.7 Billion.
As already noted, China is also not alone as regional power ambitions and economic growth have also stimulated defense spending in India, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Analysis by military experts points to the Asia-Pacific region undergoing a “quiet arms race” as the regional buildup and impacts of an improved Chinese defense industrial base reshape the regions power structure.
Inflatable Cushions Creating Discomfort
In an apparent effort to address amphibious capability gaps in the event of an invasion of Taiwan, China’s PLAN has opened negotiations to procure two heavy assault Zubr-class hovercraft from the Ukraine in a USD $315 Million deal. The first two units are to be constructed in the Black Sea Morye shipyard at Feodosiya, with the follow on units built in China with Ukrainian assistance. By building the second two units in China, the technical capacity to grow a much larger Zubr fleet will become a viable option, resulting in an all but certain shift in the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait.
The Zubr can traverse difficult beach terrain, off-load up to 230 ground troops, ten armored personnel carriers (APC) or three main battle tanks (MBT), and operates at range of 300 nautical miles at 55 knots.
At the same time that China and North Korea offensive capability rapidly increases, Taiwan has entered into a USD $3.5 Billion agreement with the United States to procure an additional four Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) operational fire units (OFU). Taiwan has further budgeted for an additional two OFU’s and a training simulator worth an additional USD $3 Billion. The deal includes 264 PAC-3 missiles produced by U.S. Systems Integrator Lockheed Martin, and replacement of legacy Raytheon AN/MPQ-53 radars with AN/MPQ-65 radars. The first upgraded OFU is expected to deploy within two years.
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