Peter Felstead, Editor of Janes Defence Weekly provides an overview of the world of defence in 2020...
As the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the globe from early this year there was at least a reminder to civilian society that national armed forces can always be a force for good. From the establishment of emergency field hospitals and testing facilities to the production of personal protective equipment, defence establishments across the world weighed in to contain the virus.
From a funding perspective, Covid-19’s effect on the world’s armed forces was mixed. While some military programmes were inevitably delayed or put on hold, many armed forces benefitted from defence programmes being used as economic stimuli and to prop up national manufacturing capabilities. Whether such military spending can be sustained over the longer term, once the true cost of Covid-19 comes home to roost, has yet to be seen.
In terms of military conflict trends, this year there has been a continued rise in the use of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). While mainly US and Israeli UAVs have been used for some time for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strikes, it is now Chinese and especially Turkish armed UAVs that are being increasingly used over battlefronts. Operations over Libya in 2019 saw Chinese Wing Loong II UAVs being flown in support of the Libyan National Army (LNA) prevail at the expense of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UAVs supporting Government of National Accord (GNA) forces, with several of the Bayraktars destroyed during raids on their bases.
This year, however, Turkish armed UAVs have had some notable successes. Anka and Bayraktar TB2 UAVs were used extensively by Turkish forces fighting in Syria’s Idlib province in March, reportedly accounting for hundreds of Syrian casualties and the destruction of several dozen tanks and other heavy weapons.
In May, meanwhile, Turkish armed UAVs operating in Libya were credited with destroying more than a dozen of the Pantsir-S1 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun/missile systems the United Arab Emirates sent to support the LNA.
During the hostilities that broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh in September, dozens of Armenian armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) were destroyed either directly by Bayraktar TB2s, by loitering munitions or by UAV-directed artillery, most likely with Turkish or even Israeli personnel guiding the unmanned operations. The humiliation of legacy, Russian-made air defences was capped with strikes on Armenia’s S-300 batteries. Such air-to-ground successes have been a sobering lesson for all deployed forces on the need for effective tactical air-defence cover.
Looking further into the future, it must surely only be a matter of time before UAVs, mirroring how the introduction of manned aircraft developed in the First World War, begin to engage each other in air-to-air combat.
In the United States, US foreign policy is set to follow a more conventional path. President-elect Biden will have urgent strategic decisions to make on many fronts, including the size of the US military footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether to re-engage with the Iranian nuclear deal, and how to stand up to the burgeoning military power of China.
China is increasingly dominating the strategic outlook of every country residing or active in the Asia-Pacific region. Such is Beijing’s seemingly unstoppable march toward regional hegemony that countries such as Australia and Japan, which in November agreed in principle a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), are being drawn ever closer as allies.
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