By: Rahul Wankhede
After the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the global attention shifted to the war in Ukraine. This came at the cost of ignoring other regional conflicts, increasing arms race in the space domain, and role of non-state actors in supporting the geo-political schemes of nation-states. Over the past few months many such important happenings have got ignored, pointing towards the inadequate efforts being devoted to geopolitical analysis. This article attempts to analyze the major developments that have taken place world over, in terms of increase in military capabilities of nations and the increased threat of regional conflicts happening in Asia and Europe.
Japanese Capability Upgrade under the USA
Japan is planning to deploy drones with ultra-long endurance for detection, tracking and targeting of approaching missiles, even hypersonic ones, from the Chinese side. Sensing an opportunity in this sector, the European defence MNC, Airbus started marketing the solar-powered Zephyr stratospheric aircraft in the Japanese market.
Using the Zephyr stratospheric platform, Airbus HAPS and the Japanese business Space Compass will provide 4G/5G mobile communication and Earth surface observation services. Zephyr is a member of the family of so-called “pseudo-satellites,” or platforms that combine the benefits of aeroplanes and satellites. On the move for weeks or months at an altitude of 20,000 metres or higher, these devices make direct radio connections between locations more than 1,000 kilometres apart. Japan also plans to deploy unmanned stratospheric planes as part of its anti-missile defence as early as 2027. Apart from these drones, Japan is also planning to acquire long range missiles for its air defence systems. The Japanese requirement as of now, is to acquire 1,500 long-range missiles within the next 10 years for counterstrike capability.
The Americans have already deployed their HIMARS systems on the Nansei islands in Japan, including the Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missiles, used by the Ground Self Defense Forces.
Japan’s existing missile defence system needs to identify Chinese and North Korean hypersonic missiles in advance. Tokyo aims to utilise dozens of long-endurance drones outfitted with infrared sensors to construct a detection network capable of scanning the surroundings of Japanese territory, including Japanese islands in the East China Sea, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Japan also aims to construct a “space layer” by launching 50 tiny spy satellites with infrared sensors beginning next year. The Japanese are also constructing a “space layer” alongside the United States.
The USA is also said to have offered the Tomahawk cruise missile to Japan, till the time they acquire their own missile systems.
Japan aims to acquire long-range standoff missiles for operational and strategic purposes, to engage targets that are beyond the enemy’s range of attack, in the next five years. The subsequent ten years would be focused on securing advanced equipment to produce the required 1,500 missiles. The mainstay of the standoff long-range missiles will be the domestically produced Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles. Its range will be extended from about 100 km to more than 1,000 km— a distance sufficient to reach the Chinese mainland.
Furthermore, the Defense Ministry may develop a submarine-launch version of these long-range missiles. Tomahawks can already be launched from submarines, and the ministry will explore the possibility of developing similar technology for the Type 12.
In addition, the government may also build an experimental warship that would be larger than conventional types and could carry long-range missiles. The ministry also plans to deploy high-speed glide bombs, that can fly at more than Mach 5 by 2026, to protect outlying islands.
Yemen and Iran
The US Navy announced in a press release that they seized around 70 tons of missile fuel, going by ship from Iran to Yemen. A United Nations arms embargo has prohibited weapons transfers to the Houthis since 2014. Despite that, Iran long has been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weaponry to the Houthis via dhow shipments. Though Iran denies arming the Houthis, independent experts, Western nations and UN experts have traced components seized aboard the detained vessels, back to Iran. The US Navy said, the missile fuel components were hidden among bags of fertilizer aboard a ship bound to Yemen from Iran.
The Navy said the amount of ammonium perchlorate discovered could fuel more than a dozen medium-range ballistic missiles, the same weapons Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have used to target both, forces allied to the country’s internationally recognised government, and the Saudi-led coalition that supports them. During a weeklong search, sailors of the US Navy discovered bags of ammonium perchlorate hidden inside of what initially appeared to be a shipment of 100 tons of urea. The ship was intercepted on a route usually used to smuggle illicit weapons and drugs from Iran to Yemen.
“The EU has strong reasons to doubt the word of Iranian authorities even though there is still no evidence Iran is supplying missiles to Russia”, the Portuguese Foreign Affairs Minister João Gomes Cravinho is said to have told reporters.
European foreign ministers adopted sanctions against 29 individuals and three entities following the repression in Iran and the sale of drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine. Although, the minister did mention that EU has no evidence against Iran, which could prove that Iran did supply missiles to the Russians. But the minister insisted, that Iran had supplied drones to Russia. The issue will be back on the table at the meeting of EU heads of diplomacy in December.
Iran has found itself in more trouble, more so, after it was found that a few people died, and others were injured in a missile attack by Iran on the Iraqi Kurdistan area.
Iran launched strikes with drones and missiles, targeting centres of terrorist parties in the northern region of Iraq, Iranian Fars News Agency reported.
The headquarters of Iranian Kurdish opposition parties, including “Komala” and the Iranian Communist Party, was also bombed by a drone. Five Iranian missiles targeted a building used by the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran. The United Nations Mission in Iraq, “UNAMI”, condemned the Iranian bombing, calling on the Iraqi and Iranian sides to dialogue on “security concerns”.
Since the outbreak of protests in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards have launched several attacks on the bases of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which Iran accuses of fomenting protest. In September 2022, the Revolutionary Guard confirmed the continuation of its operations in Iraqi Kurdistan “as long as the bases of terrorist groups are not removed” and as long as the regional authorities “do not act in accordance with their obligations”. These attacks continued despite warnings from the United States and the United Nations, which appear to be more rhetorical than before.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a meeting at the G20 summit in Bali. Biden reportedly told Xi that the U.S. will have to take action to protect the U.S. and its allies if North Korea escalates tensions. Among the wide range of topics discussed was North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. president, however, repeatedly stressed that he is unclear whether or not China has the capacity to control North Korea. This came as China and Russia continue to oppose taking joint action at the UN Security Council against North Korea’s recent barrage of missile launches. Beijing and Moscow initially supported sanctions, after North Korea’s last nuclear test in 2017. The two have argued that the resumption of massive military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea triggered North Korea to respond with missiles. Washington and Beijing remain at odds over key issues, ranging from Taiwan and Hong Kong to human rights, trade and technology. During the meeting, Xi stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s primary interests, calling the matter the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations.
Missile Shortage Hampers Further Russian Strikes
“The Russian army is not resorting to massive strikes against Ukraine because it is experiencing a lack of cruise and ballistic missiles”, a Ukrainian military spokesman told reporters this week. “The Russians had not resorted to massive strikes last week and hardly used Shahid-136 cruise missiles or Iranian drones”, as per the source. The Russians are said to be experiencing a certain shortage of weapons, particularly, the Iskanders, X555, X101 missiles, and Kalibr missiles. Russians had launched around 15 Kalibr cruise missiles at Ukraine, last month but may not have got sufficient time to replenish the war wastage stocks.
At the same time, some Kalibr missiles have been spotted in the Black Sea, which indicates that the future attacks on Ukraine may come from the sea side.
The Ukrainian frontline towns have been constantly bombarded with rocket artillery and S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. The shelling of Bakhmut and Avdiyivika towns in Donetsk Region has been relentless. The Russian advance seems to be taking breathing time, before re-building its forces in the region. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on international partners to increase the supply of air defense and missile defense systems to Ukraine, in his virtual address to the G20 Summit. According to Zelensky, “about 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure was destroyed with Russian missiles and Iranian drones used by Russian military”. The purpose of these attacks was “to prevent Ukraine’s electricity exports to neighbouring countries, which could have significantly helped them to stabilize the energy situation and reduce prices for consumers”, as per the official statements. At the same time, the Ukrainian side offered to send a mission of UN experts to the critical energy infrastructure area of Ukraine “to assess the scope of damage and the needs for restoration, as well as to prevent their further destruction”.
Clearly, the centre of gravity of the global geopolitics has now shifted to the Indo-Pacific region. Regional conflicts are once again assuming primacy in the regional balance of power. Iran, Russia, Ukraine will see prolonged conflict at least for the next six months. Japan, under the US umbrella is steadily increasing its capabilities, to balance against China and North Korea. The tag of ‘self-defence forces’ in Japan is now only for name sake, the actual military capabilities of Japan have grown steadily over the past many decades under the American protection. Meanwhile, the UNSC and other international watchdogs, which were formed for peacekeeping purposes, keep watching as an anxious entity, to which no one seems to be paying any heed to. Like the World War II delegitimized the League of Nations, one major conflict in this part of the world will surely drive a nail in the UNO’s coffin – UNO would not be dissolved like the League was, but for sure the authority of the UNO in resolving global conflicts will be severely undermined.
About the Author
Rahul Wankhede is a post graduate in Defence and Strategic Studies with a gold medal. Rahul has worked with think tanks and NGOs in domains of research, analysis and mentoring and is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India. The views expressed are personal.