What so great about the F-35? I rather buy Russian Fighter Technology and save half the costs, if there is no transfer of technology, everything can be modified by ourselves


Singapore has finally decided to acquire four F-35 aircraft with options for eight more, initially for evaluation purposes. The purchase appears cautious, well-timed, and cost-effective.

Cautious, in that development remains ongoing with a full rate production decision not likely until late 2019. Singapore plans to sign a contract about then.

Well-timed, in that it means Singapore will buy the fully-developed F-35 version, the Lot 15, Block 4 Standard. Any F-35s bought before then will need upgrading to that standard; most of Australia’s F-35s, those delivered and on order, will need upgrading.

And cost-effective, as Singapore will be buying as US annual production rate peaks, usefully pushing acquisition costs down.

The limited numbers and the F-35’s attributes suggest that Singapore will use its new F-35s in combination with its F-16 and F-15 fleets. The attribute of the F-35 that pilots most stress is its excellent sensor package that provides a very detailed picture of the battlespace. The emerging F-35 operating method appears to be F-35s operating forward in hostile airspace using stealth to survive, while passing detailed targeting information back to distant F-16 and F-15 aircraft flying outside heavily defended areas, allowing them to fire their air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles at maximum range. This approach maximises the qualities of the different aircraft involved: the F-35’s stealth and the others’ range and payload capabilities.

In terms of sending a message to an assertive China, the language is mixed. The F-35s limited range means it will not threaten mainland China, although with air-to-air refuelling the fighters could reach China’s new South China Sea airbases.

There is a problem though. The F-35s when in stealthy mode can only datalink to another F-35. But that issue might be addressed by mid-next decade, and there are practical tactical work arounds, even if a bit messy. This issue hints at both opportunities and constraints.

While Singapore will have only limited numbers of F-35s, these can be employed as force multipliers using their advanced sensors to enhance the operational effectiveness of regional air forces (albeit this will require these air forces to have high-quality datalinks). In that regard, Singapore’s F-35s would be well suited to cooperate closely with South Korean, Japanese, Australian, and US forces.

Most ASEAN air forces, however, will have difficulty working directly with Singapore’s F-35s given data link and interoperability issues. Such air forces might operate in the same general area as Singaporean F-35s rather than forming a closely integrated force package. The Singaporean F-35 influence on, and usefulness to, air forces around the South China Sea region seems limited.

In terms of sending a message to an assertive China, the language is mixed. The F-35s limited range means it will not threaten mainland China, although with air-to-air refuelling the fighters could reach China’s new South China Sea airbases. However, given Singapore’s geostrategic location, the country might be less than enthusiastic about joining in a China conflict, instead trying hard to remain neutral.

Such a stance could see the F-35s protecting Singaporean airspace from all comers, a Switzerland of Southeast Asia if you will. Singapore’s F-35s may be more a regional asset than one appropriate to a China contingency.

Such comments aside, in simply military terms, Singapore’s small number of air bases are progressively becoming more vulnerable to attack. China is building an impressive long-range ballistic missile and cruise missile attack capability. The long-runway F-35A version would be quite vulnerable if based in Singapore; the existing protective shelters would be hard placed to stop a ballistic missile attack. This doesn’t just apply to Singaporean F-35s. It is difficult to see US Air Force F-35As operating in Singapore during some time of hypothetical conflict as it would be too risky for too limited a return.

Given these concerns, Singapore could acquire at least some of the short-range/low payload F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing version. As these do not need long runways to operate, they can be better hidden and accordingly better survive missile attack. The F-35Bs could be flown around Singapore as flying senor packages relaying targeting data to ground-based surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missile systems (such as anti-ship missile systems). While the F-35B is rather expensive to buy and operate, in such a niche air defence and air surveillance role it may provide a useful, unique capability.

Singapore’s purchase throws up two issues for Australia.

Firstly, Singapore gradually developing an F-35 operating base on the island will be advantageous to Australia’s F-35 regional deployments, especially for Five Power Defence Arrangement exercises. In that regard, being a flying sensor package, both nation’s F-35s might usefully monitor Chinese aircraft movements around the region in peacetime, or perhaps during a crisis short of war.

This cuts both ways. China will also be assiduously trying to collect information on Singapore’s (and Australia’s) F-35s to help China further improve its stealth aircraft technology and tactics. This geographic vulnerability to intelligence collection also applies to South Korea’s and Japan’s new F-35 fleets.

Secondly, the Singaporean defence minister Ng Eng Hen displayed admirable candour concerning F-35 operating costs. Outside the US Government Accountability Office, that’s rare, Australia for one doesn’t know.

Ng noted the total cost of ownership of a 12 aircraft F-35 buy will be “comparable” to that for Singapore’s initial 12 two-engine, heavy-weight F-15SG buy. That might make replacing each all Singapore’s sixty single-engine, light-weight F-16s with F-35s an expensive business. Singapore’s Air Force might shrink – or perhaps choose to supplement a smaller fleet with Australia’s exciting new “loyal wingman”.

Some of these characteristics may have been on display earlier this year when Northrop Grumman’s SuperBowl AD revealed a flashy first look at its rendering of a new 6th-generation fighter jet. Northrop is one of a number of major defense industry manufacturers who will bid for a contract to build the new plane – when the time is right. 

The new aircraft, engineered to succeed the 5th-generation F-35 Joint StrikeFighter and explode onto the scene by the mid 2030s, is now in the earliest stages of conceptual development with the Air Force and Navy. The two services are now working together on early conceptual discussions about the types of technologies and capabilities the aircraft will contain. While the Air Force has not yet identified a platform for the new aircraft. 

The Navy’s new aircraft will, at least in part, replace the existing inventory of F/A-18 Super Hornets which will start to retire by 2035, Navy officials said. 

The Navy vision for a future carrier air wing in 2040 and beyond is comprised of the carrier-launched variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, and legacy aircraft such as the EA-18G Growler electronic jamming aircraft.

Also, around this time is when Navy planners envision its 6th generation aircraft to be ready, an aircraft which will likely be engineered for both manned and unmanned missions.

Technologies are rapidly advancing in coatings, electromagnetic spectrum issues, maneuvering, superiority in sensing the battlespace, communications and data links, Navy leaders have said.

Navy officials also add that the Navy is likely to develop new carrier-launched unmanned air vehicles in coming years as well.

Analysts have speculated that as 6th generation developers seek to engineer a sixth-generation aircraft, they will likely explore a range of next-generation technologies such as maximum sensor connectivity, super cruise ability and an aircraft with electronically configured “smart skins.”

Maximum connectivity would mean massively increased communications and sensor technology such as having an ability to achieve real-time connectivity with satellites, other aircraft and anything that could provide relevant battlefield information.The new aircraft might also seek to develop the ability to fire hypersonic weapons, however such a development would hinge upon successful progress with yet-to-be-proven technologies such as scramjets traveling at hypersonic speeds. Some tests of early renderings of this technology have been tested successfully and yet other attempts have failed.

Super cruise technology would enable the new fighter jet to cruise at supersonic speeds without needing afterburner, analysts have explained.

Smart aircraft skins would involve dispersing certain technologies or sensors across the fuselage and further integrating them into theaircraft itself, using next-generation computer algorithms to organize and diplay information for the pilot.

Smart skins with distributed electronics means that instead of having systems mounted on the aircraft, you would have apertures integrated on the skin of the aircraft, analysts have said.

This could reduce drag, increase speed and maneuverability while increasing the technological ability of the sensors.

It is also possible that the new 6th-generation fighter could use advanced, futuristic stealth technology able to enable newer, more capable air defenses. The air defenses of potential adversaries are increasingly using faster computing processing power and are better networked together, more digital, able to detect a wider range of frequencies and able to detect stealthy aircraft at farther distances. 

The new 6th-generation fighter will also likey fire lasers and have the ability to launch offensive electronic attacks.

This story originally appeared in  Scout Warrior.


US-China trade war will have to end because both sides are bleeding


CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. farmers are gearing up to plant what could be their third-largest soybean crop ever despite failing to sell a mountain of beans from their last harvest due to a U.S.-China trade war that remains unresolved.

Soybeans were the single most valuable U.S. agricultural export crop and until the trade war, China bought $12 billion-worth a year from American farmers.

But Chinese tariffs have almost halted the trade, taking the biggest buyer out of the market and leaving farmers with crops they cannot sell. The U.S. government estimates farmers will have 900 million bushels, or approximately $8 billion, of last year’s soybeans in storage silos around the country when they start harvesting the next crop.

The U.S. government rolled out a $12 billion farm aid package last year to soften the impact of falling revenue on farmers, an important source of votes for U.S. President Donald Trump.

As winter ends and farmers begin planting, they will continue to plant soy despite uncertainty over whether they will be able to sell beans to China later this year. There are simply no better options, farmers say. 

“It is tough to rotate out of soybeans because what else are you going to plant?” said Darin Anderson, a 41-year-old farmer from Valley City, North Dakota.

One alternative, sorghum, was also dragged into the trade war. Farmers also could increase their corn acreage but the corn-based ethanol industry is struggling. Additionally, farmers who plant corn on the same fields two years in a row need to buy extra fertilizer and fuel.

Alternative niche crops such as hemp are expensive to start growing and have limited markets.

“Farmers have made long-term investments whether it is equipment or storage,” said Josh Gackle, a 44-year-old farmer from Kulm, North Dakota.

“All that is very specialized and the transition to something else takes a new set of investments.”

That means farmers will plant soybeans in the hope that the trade war ends, or that they will be compensated by another bailout or crop insurance schemes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts farmers will sow 85 million acres of the oilseed this spring. That is down just 4.6 percent from last year and would be the third largest U.S. area planted with soybeans.

The USDA expects soybean prices will fall in 2019 due to tariffs and rising supply. But soybean futures prices have performed relatively well, considering the disruption to markets from tariffs. The price is up 5.3 percent since China imposed a 25 percent tariff in July. That means many growers have made a slim profit from seeding soybeans.

Soybean farmer Austin Rincker poses for a photograph near his planter equipment at his farm in Moweaqua, Illinois, U.S., March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

“It is not a lot of gravy by any means,” said Austin Rincker, a 30-year-old farmer from Moweaqua, Illinois. “But with a good crop, we could still maintain some profitability.”

Rincker is aiming for a 50-50 split between corn and soybeans on his farm after a similar division in 2018. Any further increase in corn would add to his expenses, he said.

Growers are also confident their government-subsidized crop insurance plans will soften the blow if soy prices fall.

Farmers pay for their individual insurance policies, which provides a minimum price they will receive when they book sales for their crops. The federal government funds around 60 percent of the insurance payouts.

“It is nice to know it is there,” said Art Bunting, an Illinois farmer who typically opts for plans that cover 85 percent of expected revenue, the maximum amount offered under the plans.

The 2019 crop insurance price for soybeans was set at $9.54 a bushel based on the futures market activity during February, a rate 62 cents lower than last year. The November soybean futures contract, which is used to determine the crop insurance price, had dropped 18 cents below that level by the middle of March.

As well as the insurance, farmers were able to tap the government aid program to boost the profit on their 2018 crop. The bulk of the program’s budget was devoted to soybean claims. The USDA has said repeatedly the package was a one-off deal.


The economic future of U.S. farmers is in the hands of U.S. and Chinese negotiators working to end the trade war, said Bob Utterback, president of consultancy Utterback Marketing.

“It’s going to be bloody out here in farm country,” without a trade deal, he said.

The USDA expects China’s annual soy imports to fall this year for the first time since 2004. China has booked just 11.0 million tonnes of U.S. soybean shipments since the marketing year started on Sept. 1, 2018, down from 28.2 million at the same point a year ago. The country’s total soy imports for the year are expected to be 6.5 percent below last year.

A fast-spreading outbreak of African swine fever reported in 28 provinces and regions has led to mass culling and reduced China’s demand for hog feed. China has also tried to boost the amount of alternative feeds used in livestock rations to reduce its dependence on U.S. imports.

But many farmers are convinced China will have to return to the U.S. market because even if it succeeds in reducing soymeal demand as Chinese demand for soybeans has more than tripled in the past 15 years.

And Beijing has promised 10 million more tonnes of goodwill purchases as part of the trade negotiations, U.S. officials have said.

“I think the demand will continue,” said Roger Hadley, a 66-year-old Indiana farmer who is aiming to divide his 1,000 acres evenly between soybeans and corn this spring.

“Their folks have got that taste in their diet.”

Reporting by Mark Weinraub; Additional reporting by P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Caroline Stauffer, Simon Webb and Lisa Shumaker

US allies defy Trump administration’s plea to ban Huawei from 5G networks


Europe and the U.S. are clashing over Huawei’s role in the future of 5G.

While Donald Trump’s administration has tried to pressure allied countries, including those in Europe, to ban the Chinese firm from being included in the rollout of the next generation of mobile networking technologies, nations including the U.K. and Germany aren’t listening.

Germany’s 5G spectrum auction began on Tuesday — a process in which carriers bid for certain radio frequencies in order to provide the new version of high-speed mobile internet.

The U.S. alleges that Huawei’s networking equipment could be used for espionage by the Chinese government. Huawei has repeatedly denied that it poses any risk and said it would never allow Beijing to get its hands on customer data. Experts are skeptical, however, about Huawei’s assurances because Chinese national security laws appear to compel companies operating in the country to comply with all government requests for such info.

What’s at stake is control over what experts describe as one of the most important technologies in recent times. 5G is not just about making mobile internet faster: It will underpin other technology from driverless cars to so-called smart cities. The U.S. wants to be a leading player — and so does China.

Despite Washington’s protests, Germany is not excluding Huawei from becoming part of its national 5G infrastructure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this month that the country will define its own security standards.

But its not just Germany that is defying the U.S. Italy’s government has said that it won’t ban Huawei from its telecommunications industry, saying there is no proof of any security threat.

And in the United Kingdom, intelligence officials said that any risks posed by Huawei can be mitigated, according to an FT report in February. Even individual carriers have expressed their concern over excluding Huawei from the 5G rollout. U.K.-headquartered carrier Vodafone said banning Huawei could cost it millions of pounds and slow the rollout of 5G.

Experts say that while the American rollout of 5G would not be affected by a Huawei ban, Europe could suffer. Nikhil Batra, senior telecommunications research manager at IDC said European carriers’ businesses have struggled compared to those in the U.S., so they want the cheapest possible deal for 5G equipment — something that Huawei can provide.

“When you look at the industry as small as network equipment providers, excluding Huawei will have a big impact on the industry. If I am going from three major vendors to two major vendors, competition decreases, prices will increase as a result. A lot of countries, including specific telcos, are looking at Huawei as a better-cost option,” Batra told CNBC on Thursday.

The two other major players for Europe are Nokia and Ericsson.

“Traditionally, Huawei has been playing a lot on the cost in terms of being competitive versus the other two major players,” Batra added.

European countries, Batra said, have not seen hard evidence regarding the allegations made by the U.S. and that is one reason why they are not following America’s lead. Critically, the U.S. argument is that Huawei’s technology could allow for spying — not specifically that the company has already performed intelligence gathering for Beijing.

And it’s not just European countries butting heads with the U.S. Thailand, a U.S. ally in Asia, launched a 5G test bed with Huawei in February. India, meanwhile, is looking for a way to exclude Huawei from some parts of its 5G infrastructure, but it is not seeking an entire ban, according to a report by the Nikkei Asian Review earlier this month.

But the U.S. is not budging on its stance against Huawei and the country’s networks are backing it.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson claimed on Wednesday that Huawei is making it tough for European carriers to drop Huawei as their supplier because the company is an important part of their existing 4G networks.

“If you have deployed Huawei as your 4G network, Huawei is not allowing interoperability to 5G — meaning if you are 4G, you are stuck with Huawei for 5G,” Stephenson said.

The AT&T chief said the U.S. government should better-explain its issue with Huawei. The biggest risk is not that the Chinese government might listen to conversations or mine data, it’s that 5G will be such a critical infrastructure and governments should be cautious about who the vendors are, he said.

“If that much of infrastructure will be attached to this kind of technology, do we want to be cautious about who is the underlying company behind that technology? We damn well better be,” Stephenson said.

Huawei declined to comment on Stephenson’s remarks when contacted by CNBC.