Addressing the Italian Airlift Gap

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

Vice Admiral Hervé Bléjean, Deputy Commander Allied Maritime Command (centre), presides over the Change of Command Ceremony of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two, between Commodore Josée Kurtz, Royal Canadian Navy (left), and Rear Admiral Paolo Fantoni, Italian Navy, at the Taranto Naval Base, Italy, 16 December, 2019.
Vice Admiral Hervé Bléjean, Deputy Commander Allied Maritime Command (centre), presides over the Change of Command Ceremony of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two, between Commodore Josée Kurtz, Royal Canadian Navy (left), and Rear Admiral Paolo Fantoni, Italian Navy, at the Taranto Naval Base, Italy, 16 December, 2019.

In 2015, the Italian Ministry of Defence released a White Paper that envisions Italy’s national security as inextricably linked to the Euro-Mediterranean region, broadly defined as the countries with a coastline on the Mediterranean or Black Seas but also extending as far as the Mashreq (such as Syria and Iraq), the Sahel (a band stretching from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east), the Horn of Africa, and the Persian Gulf. Italy has certainly deployed considerable resources to promote stability in this region over the past decade. Rear Admiral Paolo Fantoni of the Italian Navy currently commands Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), the Italian Navy has actively participated in Operation Ocean Shield off the Horn of Africa as long as in other multilateral maritime operations, and the Italian Army has troops serving in Libya, Niger, Somalia, and elsewhere. 

However, the capacity to project stability into conflict or post-conflict areas over extended periods depends largely on access to strategic and tactical airlift. African Union (AU) peacekeeping efforts, for example, have often fallen short because of a lack of adequate airlift, leaving the AU to depend on assistance from non-members or to simply end missions. Does Italy have sufficient airlift to reach the ambitious goals it has set for itself in the Euro-Mediterranean region? To answer this, it is worthwhile to examine the Italian military’s airlift capacity in comparison to the tactical airlift available to the militaries of other European Union (EU) member states, namely because the majority of Italian military operations in Africa have been conducted either bilaterally or under the auspices of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Member StateAirlift FleetTotal Airlift Capacity (kg)
AustriaLockheed C-130K (x3)57,000
BelgiumLockheed C-130H (x9)171,000
BulgariaAntonov An-26 (x1), Alenia C-27J (x2)28,500
Czech RepublicCASA C-295 (x4)28,200
DenmarkLockheed C-130J (x4)76,000
SpainLockheed C-130H (x5), Airbus A400M (x3)206,000
FinlandCASA C-295 (x2)14,100
FranceAirbus A310 (x2), Airbus A400M (x12), Lockheed C-130H (x14), Lockheed C-130J (x2), Transall C-160 (x15), CASA CN-235 (x27)1,214,000
GermanyAirbus A310 (x1), Airbus A400M (x28), Lockheed C-130J (x2), Transall C-160 (x42)1,778,800
GreeceLockheed C-130J (x7), Alenia C-27J (x8)225,800
HungaryAntonov An-26 (x3), Airbus A-319 (x2)42,500
ItalyLockheed C-130J (x15), Alenia C-27J (x8)377,800
LithuaniaAlenia C-27J (x3)34,800
NetherlandsLockheed C-130H (x4)76,000
PolandLockheed C-130E (x5), CASA C-295 (x16)207,800
PortugalLockheed C-130H (x4), CASA C-295 (x5)111’250
RomaniaAntonov An-26 (x2), Lockheed C-130H (x3), Alenia C-27J (x7)149,200
SlovakiaAlenia C-27J (x2)23,200
SwedenLockheed C-130H (x5)95,000
Source: Craig Hoyle, “World Airforces 2020“, Flight International, FlightGlobal, 2020.

In addition to these, it is worth noting that several EU member states have ordered additional Airbus A400M Atlas units in an effort to either modernize or expand their respective airlift capabilities, with delivers of 23 for France, 22 for Germany, 17 for Spain, seven for Belgium, and one for Luxembourg expected soon. The Czech Republic has ordered two Embraer C-390 Millennium, and Portugal intends to replace its Lockheed C-130H fleet with six new C-390’s as well. NATO’s Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) makes available three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III to ten NATO member states (Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and the United States) and two Partnership for Peace countries (Finland and Sweden). Finally, NATO’s Strategic Airlift International Solution (SALIS) has participation from nine NATO member states – Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia – and ensures access to up to five Antonov An-124-100 aircraft, each capable of transporting as much as 120 tons of cargo.  

Also, not all airlift is created equal. For example, as a converted airliner, the A310-330 can only move personnel and pallets, not military vehicles or other outsized cargo, and it lacks a ramp for loading and offloading, limiting it to airports or airbases with the appropriate cargo handling equipment.

Size comparison of military transport aircraft. Top down: Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules, C-130J-30 Super Hercules (extended), Airbus A400M Atlas, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.
Size comparison of military transport aircraft.
Top-down: Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules,
C-130J-30 Super Hercules (extended), Airbus A400M
Atlas, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.

In any case, though Italian airlift ranks third among EU members, it only accounts for 8.2% of their total estimated airlift capacity. At only a fraction of German and French capabilities, Italian policymakers and defence planners should consider how to ensure future access to airlift that better matches the role Italy has envisioned for itself in Africa and the Middle East. Under current circumstances, the Italian Air Force would not be able to transport armoured vehicles, such as Freccia infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), to assist in case of renewed hostilities in Mali. In effect, Italy is limited to the EU Training Mission Mali and would need to evacuate its troops if militant Islamists in that country made a push south to the Malian capital of Bamako. 

One option would be to purchase several aircraft to supplement the existing fleet. Italy had previously participated in the Airbus A400M project until then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ended that involvement in late 2001. The A400M, Embraer’s C-390, or another design could certainly meet Italy’s operational needs if a significant investment in additional units were made. However, this may be difficult to achieve, given the political controversy that has surrounded recent Air Force procurement, such as the objections raised by the Five Star Movement (M5S), a partner in the coalition government, to the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

As an alternative, Italy could consider participation in NATO’s SAC, SALIS, or both. This would allow Italy to upscale its presence in conflict or post-conflict areas as needed. Returning to the hypothetical scenario of a Malian escalation: the Italian Air Force’s existing fleet of C-130J Super Hercules and C-27J Spartan would be sufficient to transport troops and their equipment to Mali for the training mission. Additionally, the NATO SAC or SALIS could be tapped to transport armored vehicles if those same Italian troops came under subsequent threat from insurgents. This would be the lowest cost solution to Italy’s airlift gap and would also offer the highest degree of operational flexibility, notwithstanding the potential for multiple simultaneous demands for NATO SAC flying hours from other program participants. It may also be the most politically feasible solution for the current coalition government. Despite some earlier M5S rumblings about NATO, Italian Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini said in a May 2020 interview that the Alliance “…remains a cornerstone of our security and defence architecture”.

After 20 years, for the first time with the C-130J, the 46 ͣ Pisa Air Brigade of the Italian Air Force again supporting the Italian expedition of Aeneas in October 2019.
After 20 years, for the first time with the C-130J, the 46 ͣ Pisa Air Brigade of the Italian Air Force again supporting the Italian expedition in Antarctica in October 2019.

The Italian example demonstrates the need for policymakers and defence planners everywhere to recognize how airlift, or the lack thereof, can place limitations on stability projection. That relationship must be kept in mind when developing both procurement programs and national defence strategies. If there is a gap between the airlift needed to successfully implement a given country’s defence strategy, then airlift capacity should be improved by procuring additional aircraft, or the strategy should be revised to focus on a closer neighbourhood, into which stability can be projected without additional airlift capacity. With its current capabilities, Italy has envisioned much too ambitious a role for itself in the Euro-Mediterranean, which requires its defence establishment to pursue one of the options described here or to narrow the scope of its involvement in the region to those countries it can successfully reach with sealift, such as Libya.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, International, Italy, Paul Pryce, Security Policy | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Technological Progress

Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar.

It is not surprising that technology is playing an essential role in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. However, this pandemic is the first of its kind to use modern technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) for almost real-time responses. This can be seen, for example, with Nextstrain, where the geographic spread and mutation of the virus can be tracked by examining its genetic code. Sequencing is an important, fundamental technology here that makes a detailed understanding of the virus and insights into combating the pandemic possible. It has been possible to identify the nucleotide sequence of a DNA or RNA molecule since 1995. However, there has since been breathtaking progress that has revolutionized the biological sciences.

Die Ausbreitungswege des Coronavirus sind verschlungen. Von China aus breitete es sich um den ganzen Erdball aus. Die Farben stehen für verschiedene geografische Regionen. (Quelle: Nextstrain).
The ways of spreading the coronavirus are convoluted. It has spread across the entire planet from its start in China. The colors represent different geographic regions. (Source: Nextstrain).

We are at the point where the best of the best can start to synthesize this new virus contemporaneously with the outbreak. But that is just a few labs. Fortunately, we are still far from the point when lots of people can synthesize anything. — Nicholas G. Evans, cited in Antonio Regalado, “Biologists Rush to Re-Create the China Coronavirus from Its DNA Code“, MIT Technology Review, 15.02.2020.

The progress of the past 25 years can be seen in the speed with which the coronavirus could be sequenced entirely. While the SARS (SARS-CoV) virus took about three months to sequence, the novel coronavirus was sequenced within a month, with the results published January 10, 2020, by Professor Zhang Yong-Zhen of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center. While globalization made it possible for the virus to spread worldwide quickly, global networking is helping to investigate the virus with its unique scope and nature. Specialized laboratories that have acquired the necessary molecules for a few thousand dollars can use the published genome sequence to assemble a copy of the virus, inject it into a cell, and activate it. Of course, there is also a certain risk associated with this ability, as was demonstrated 20 years ago when a deadly virus was produced from an emailed genome sequence. In order to prevent this technology from falling into the wrong hands and being used for the wrong purpose, orders placed in the United States for specific pieces of DNA are recorded in a database and are only delivered to authorized laboratories. Besides, the technological hurdles for the laboratories remain quite high (for now). The big advantage of this technology is that specialized laboratories around the world can research a virus without the need for a live sample from a contaminated area. Ralph S. Baric, a US coronavirus expert, sees this technology as the future of how the medical research community will respond to new viral threats. In 2008, his laboratory at the University of North Carolina had synthesized a coronavirus for study purposes that have been not existing in nature.

Technologies based on AI not only accelerate the sequencing and analysis of genomes but are also used to support diagnostics and research. Although the analysis of a nasopharyngeal swab is the most common method of a COVID-19 diagnosis, if there is a lack of test kits or if the patient population is very high, AI techniques can use CT scans of the lungs on a triage basis to identify those patients that are most likely to be infected. However, it is rather questionable whether this technique alone can also be used to diagnose an infection. Besides, the diagnosis of a nasopharyngeal swab is more reliable and cheaper if there are enough test kits. By contrast, the use of AI makes more sense when searching for and developing effective treatment and vaccination options. For example, Insilico Medicine used AI techniques to identify thousands of molecules for potential drugs in just four days and published the results on its website. Nevertheless, AI cannot solve every problem: before new treatment methods, or vaccination options can be used, they have to pass time-consuming clinical tests, which cannot be accelerated with modern technologies. It is, therefore, still unlikely that vaccination will be available on the market before the third quarter of 2021. An overview of all the currently researched treatment methods and vaccination options can be found here.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there was not only a shortage of test kits in some countries, but with the high number of patients in intensive care units, there were also not enough valves and face masks needed to support the breathing of patients. There was also an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment for medical personnel. In part, such supply issues could be alleviated by using 3-D printers. For example, the Italian start-up Isinnova reverse-engineered a valve that is important for patient ventilation with the permission of its manufacturer Intersurgical, 3-D printed it, and made it available to hospitals in northern Italy. Isinnova has also manufactured a valve that can be used together with the Decathlon Easybreath snorkel mask as an oxygen mask in hospitals. The company Materialise, in turn, is offering a wide range of different products from its 3-D printers: face mask holders, face shield holders, respiratory masks, door openers, and shopping cart holders. In a comprehensive article that he is continuously updating, Michael Petch is tracking the wealth of 3-D printed products being created in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Im Hintergund dieser angeblichen Corona-Tracking-App lauert eine verschlüsselnde Ransomware.
Encrypting ransomware lurks in the background of this
alleged corona tracking app.

Networking plays a central role in all of these technological approaches. However, this networking can have negative consequences when the widespread fear and high demand for information are exploited. In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe in particular, false information that spread via WhatsApp and Telegram encouraged panic buying. Since the retailers were unable to replenish their shelves quickly enough for logistical and personnel reasons, the gaps suggested a non-existent supply problem, which only exacerbated the hoarding.

In the area of cybercrime, attacks using phishing emails are increasingly being used. These emails usually pretend to contain important information or offer behind a link or a document that presents itself as time-sensitive, but then download malicious and spy software or steal data, as was the case with the two alleged emails from the German bank Sparkasse and the WHO. However, even the mere dissemination of false information can cause physical damage, as demonstrated, for example, by the probable 2,850 methanol poisonings and the resulting 480 deaths in Iran. In this case, it was claimed that drinking industrial alcohol would kill the virus. As another example, in the UK, 5G cell towers were set alight because conspiracy theories claimed that the coronavirus pandemic and 5G were related. Ransomware is a particular type of malware that encrypts the contents of data carriers and only decrypts them once a “ransom” has been paid. For example, ransomware for smartphones lurked in an alleged corona tracking app. Computers in hospitals and medical laboratories are also being targeted by ransomware. In mid-March, for example, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District in Illinois paid a $350,000 ransom to get its decrypted data.

Funktionsweise einer Contact Tracing App.
How a contact tracing app works.

The threats to society that arise from the expansion and increasing use of surveillance options are at a more strategic level. Already end of April, 23 countries had introduced digital contact tracing, and 43 apps existed worldwide that enabled contact tracing. However, not all of these apps are effective or secure. The apps, all of which only use GPS, fail to provide enough precision to prevent false reports. Ten countries have gone even further and have been using facial recognition cameras (in Russia, for example); others have been added heat sensors (for example, China and Singapore), surveillance drones (for example, Australia, China, and India), and networked video surveillance systems (for example, Singapore). Censorship measures have been tightened in at least twelve countries (for example, in China, Cambodia, and Singapore), and internet access has been restricted in at least four countries.

If data is to be recorded, collected, and evaluated using a contact tracing app, for example, to combat the coronavirus pandemic, certain basic conditions must be observed from an ethical perspective. Proportionality must be the first priority, i.e., data collection must be proportionate to the seriousness of the threat to public health or the restriction of public life. The consequences that the restrictive measures designed to contain the pandemic will have on other freedoms and the health consequences in the absence of such restrictive measures fundamentally affirm an ethically justifiable use of contact tracing apps. However, such apps, as well as the data collected and evaluated by them, must be restricted in such a way that they are used only for this one goal, i.e., to warn someone that has come into contact with a person diagnosed as infected. The app and data must not be misused for other purposes, lawful or otherwise, such as criminal investigations, anti-terrorism efforts, etc. In addition, there needs to be scientific proof that the solution delivers the intended added value, which is why contact tracing apps based exclusively on GPS are ethically questionable due to their inaccuracy. Besides, the data collected should be anonymized effectively and stored as decentrally as possible. Information on the recording, collection, and evaluation of data must be provided transparently; this also includes keeping the source code for such apps open. The purpose of the transfer of data to third parties must be clear to the data subjects, and they must be able to rescind permission to such data collection in the future. The use of such apps, as well as the provision of the data, must be voluntary and only for a limited time. When an effective vaccine becomes available, the data collection must be stopped, the app and existing data have to be deleted.

Die Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Lausanne tested ihre dezentralisierte Contact Tracing App, wobei Angehörige der Schweizer Armee als Testpersonen mitgeholfen haben.
The Swiss École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne is testing its decentralized contact tracing app, with members of the Swiss armed forces helping as test subjects.
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From Syria and Iraq to Libya: Turkey repeatedly demonstrates the combat effectiveness of its drones

by Paul Iddon

In recent years, Turkey has demonstrated a hitherto unprecedented capability in both the production and the combat use of its increasingly formidable domestically-built armed drones. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signs a Bayraktar TB2 drone at a military airbase in Batman, Turkey, on Feb. 3, 2018 (Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signs a Bayraktar TB2 drone at a military airbase in Batman, Turkey, on Feb. 3, 2018 (Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar).

Turkey first used its drones in the conflicts against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey and the Syrian Kurds in 2016. Since then, Ankara has used these drones in operations in Iraq, Syria, and even Libya, in each case proving their effectiveness and lethality in different ways. 

Turkey, through statements from its officials and its largely state-run press, frequently extols its increased ability to build new weapons systems domestically, invariably asserting it has made huge progress in weaning itself off its reliance on foreign countries for its military hardware and increasing its self-sufficiently capacity. While the extent of its ability to produce most of its military hardware independently is still debatable, the country has undoubtedly made progress in developing an independent drone capability from the ground up. 

In recent years, Turkey has unveiled an increasing number of armed drones, perhaps most prominent among them being the Bayraktar TB2 and the Anka-S models. Carrying small but precision laser-guided Roketsan MAM-L smart micro munitions, these unmanned aircraft have made Turkey a combat-tested drone power to be reckoned with. 

Aerial assassins over Iraq
An early example of just how effective these drones are was demonstrated when Turkey assassinated İsmail Özden — a senior PKK figure with code-named “Uncle” Zaki Shingali — in Kocho in the Iraqi Sinjar district in August 2018 with a targeted airstrike. He was killed when missiles struck his convoy after leaving a memorial event for victims of the Yazidi genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State

Footage from the Shingali assassination showed a drone tracking two pickup trucks. Two guided missiles then destroyed both vehicles (see video below). It is unclear if the missiles were fired from the drone or if the drone used a laser designator to guide a Turkish F-16 Fighting Falcon to destroy the convoy. Either way, the attack was unprecedented. Before this operation, no other country in the region except Israel had the means to carry out targeted killings beyond its borders.

Since Shingali’s assassination, Turkey has repeatedly demonstrated its game-changing capability of assassinating PKK leaders deep in their Iraqi Kurdish mountain sanctuaries from the air. Turkey’s drones can loiter much lower and for longer periods than Turkish Air Force fighter jets or helicopters can, which is particularly advantageous not only for a lethal attack but also for intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance operations. It is unclear, however, the exact extent to which drones are presently being used in anti-PKK operations in Iraqi Kurdistan, either in surveillance or direct attack roles – they may well be used mostly as spotters for manned airstrikes – since the Turkish military seldom specifies the types of aircraft used in these strikes.

Tank killers over Syria
Aside from targeting guerrilla fighters high in the mountains, Turkey’s drones have also decimated conventional ground forces in Syria’s Idlib during clashes there in February-March 2020. Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S drones played a major role in these strikes, which commenced following the killing of several Turkish soldiers in clashes in that province with the Syrian regime forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One airstrike killed at least 34 Turkish troops in a single day on February 27, the largest loss of Turkish soldiers in a single incident in years. 

In return, Turkish drones destroyed hundreds of regime vehicles, artillery, and tanks and killed untold numbers of Syrian troops and militiamen in the Turkish military Operation Spring Shield. The drones also acted as spotters for cross-border Turkish artillery bombardments. 

Thanks to these unmanned drones, Turkey did not have to risk flying either its piloted F-16 or even F-4 Phantom II jet fighter-bombers into Syrian airspace for airstrikes. Turkish F-16s were even able to shoot down three Syrian warplanes over Idlib with their long-range AIM-120 AMRAAMs without having to venture out of Turkish airspace (see infographic above right). 

While Turkey did lose some of its drones to Syrian ground fire, these were relatively inexpensive losses compared to the overall damage they caused. More importantly, Turkey did not have to replace any pilots or drone operators for any of those unmanned aircraft it lost over Idlib. With Turkey planning to build as many as 92 Bayraktar TB2s per year, these drones will likely become much easier to replace than the loss of far more expensive fighter jets. 

Bayraktars over Tripoli
In the ongoing civil war in Libya, Turkish drones have played a very significant role in militarily supporting Ankara’s ally in that conflict, the Government of National Accord (GNA), in the capital Tripoli against the Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by General Khalifa Haftar. While the LNA has proven capable of shooting down several of these drones, they are relatively easy to replace for the reasons mentioned above. Also, Turkey has shown a willingness to replenish drone losses in the conflict, given its unwillingness to let Haftar prevail in that increasingly bitter conflict. Turkish drones have also helped win the GNA some notable battlefield victories. 

The present GNA-LNA conflict exploded in April 2019, when Haftar sought to oust his rivals from Tripoli through a ferocious siege. In June 2019, Turkish Bayraktars gave the GNA decisive air support, helping the group rout the LNA from the city of Gharyan south of the capital, a major supply line for the LNA’s siege in one of its first significant strategic setbacks in the LNA campaign.

In May 2020, Turkish Bayraktar TB2s played another significant role in weakening the LNA’s presence in western Libya. They bombarded the LNA-held al-Wastiya airbase with reportedly no fewer than 57 strikes, allowing the GNA to capture it. Embarrassingly for the LNA, the GNA fighters also captured an intact Pantsir-S1 (NATO reporting name SA-22 Greyhound) air defence missile system that the United Arab Emirates supplied Haftar. TB2s also took out other LNA Pantsir missile systems in May, reportedly with the help of the sophisticated Turkish KORAL Electronic Warfare system that jammed the radars of the Pantsir systems, leaving them vulnerable to air attacks, and the datalink frequencies of the Wing Loong drones used by the LNA. 

While drones have played a significant role in beating back Haftar’s forces in eastern Tripoli, they may not prove as effective in supporting any GNA offensive into eastern Libya, given their limited range. “The Bayraktar drone has a general range of only 150 miles and requires a direct line of sight signal, so any operations east of Sirte would require Ankara and the GNA to either forward-deploy control stations or build relay towers — both of which would be vulnerable to LNA counterattack,” noted an analysis by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The Bayraktar TB2 drone at Geçitkale Airport near Lefkoniko in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). 

These battlefield victories strongly indicate that Turkey’s drones are becoming increasingly lethal weapons that Ankara’s various adversaries, both within its frontiers and increasingly further beyond them, will have to contend with.

More information

Posted in Armed Forces, Drones, English, International, Paul Iddon, Proliferation, Security Policy, Technology, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

European main battle tank project – not open to all EU members?

by Björn Müller (Facebook / Twitter; originally published in German). Björn is a journalist in Berlin focusing on security policy and geopolitics.

Germany and France are working on a concept for a joint battle tank of the future. The so-called Main Ground Combat System – MGCS for short – is not only intended to replace the Leopard 2 of the German Bundeswehr and France’s Leclerc main battle tank in the mid-2030s, according to the claims from Berlin and Paris, the new weapon system is also expected to become the standard tank in Europe.

Quelle: Armin Papperger, "Mobility, Security, Passion", Rheinmetall, 2019.
Source: Armin Papperger, “Mobility, Security, Passion”, Rheinmetall, 2019.

There are currently 11 different tank models in the armed forces of European countries. This shows how heterogeneous and fragmented the European military potential is. A single main battle tank from Poland to Portugal would be a decisive step in the EU’s plan to make Europe a serious military power. Poland would be a crucial test case for opening up the Franco-German initiative into a European tank project. The country on the eastern flank of NATO plays an important role when it comes to the conflict with Russia in defending the military alliance and the EU. The government in Warsaw is aiming to build up strong armoured forces. It has already made clear its wish to participate in the Franco-German  armaments project. However, the Poles have doubts as to whether Germany and France are serious about the prospect of third parties participating.

The impression in Poland is that there is a lot of talk about European weapons systems and European armaments programmes. However, France and Germany primarily mean bilateral Franco-German programmes. The intention is for the arms industry in France and Germany to increase its market share in Europe – at the expense of the defence industry in other countries such as Poland.

Marcin Terlikowski – armaments expert at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) in Warsaw.
Quelle: Armin Papperger, "Mobility, Security, Passion", Rheinmetall, 2019.
Source: Armin Papperger, “Mobility, Security, Passion”,
Rheinmetall, 2019.

In fact, Germany and France have been fixated on dividing up the relevant stakes in the production of a new main battle tank between the German and French armaments industries. For almost five years up until 2019, the German tank forging companies Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall contended to lead the armaments project. KMW founded with the French company Nexter the KNDS holding as early as 2015 to procure an advantageous position early on during the MGCS project. CEO and chairman of the executive board of Rheinmetall, Armin Papperger, later pursued the ambitious plan to take over the majority of KNDS. France then feared that this could jeopardise Nexter’s agreed 50 percent production share. In October last year, the three companies finally agreed on an MGCS project company in which Nexter holds 50 percent, and KMW and Rheinmetall each hold 25 percent. The procurement office of the Bundeswehr recently awarded the contract for the system architecture study to the project company. The first results should be available in 2022. Poland, which has until now been left out, could bring its influence to bear in its favour on being a future main customer of the future tank:

Poland will soon need at least 500 main battle tanks to fill gaps in its armoured brigades. 

– Terlikowski

The problem of the Polish armed forces is that the tank units are still largely equipped with older Soviet models. The most modern tanks are outdated German Leopard 2 versions. Poland is, therefore, interested in participating in the Franco-German main battle tank:

Our defence industry is not geared towards European armaments cooperation. We are not involved in European projects. Soviet technology still takes centre stage. And that’s the reason why we want to have access to Western expertise. We want to develop our industrial skills, thereby further.

– Terlikowski
Das 2013 auf der MSPO-Ausstellung in Kielce von OBRUM aus Gleiwitz- Łabędy vorgestellte Designkonzept eines zukünftigen polnische Unterstützungspanzers PL-01 hat sich bis jetzt nicht realisiert.
The design concept of a future Polish PL-01 support tank presented by OBRUM from Gleiwitz-Łabędy at the MSPO exhibition in Kielce in 2013 has not yet been realised. 

Central-Eastern European countries such as Poland are still not partners in major European armaments projects such as the A400M transport aircraft. The Western European countries dominate here, with their large corporations such as Airbus. The use of Soviet-based technology excludes Eastern Europeans. For Terlikowski, the Franco-German tank project would be an excellent opportunity for Poland to overcome this exclusion:

The only armaments area where we could bring something to the table is land systems. Here, we are able to produce some sophisticated platforms and to integrate components available on the global market. For example, we can offer an armoured howitzer on a Samsung chassis or a Czech artillery gun with integrated Polish fire control and communication system. 

– Terlikowski

Poland, therefore, has a significant interest in participating in the Franco-German main battle tank project. However, joining it is not an automatic process. There are reservations against Poland, especially from the French side.

It is noticeable that bilateral relations have deteriorated since 2014. They have also deteriorated in the field of armaments. First of all, from the French perspective, no sustainable reform of the national armaments industry was discernible. On the subject of MGCS, especially, it has not been forgotten in Paris that Poland initially supported an Italian counter-project. Secondly, the American preference seems so dominant that it is hardly compatible with the European preference that Paris supports. The best example is the so-called Caracal Treaty – in 2016, the Polish government cancelled the purchase of Caracal military helicopters in favour of American helicopters. Of course, these gestures between Paris and Warsaw are not ones to inspire confidence. 

Gaëlle Winter – security expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) in Paris.

In addition to the poor relationship with France, there is also the question of how Poland could contribute to the MGCS project. Because when it comes to the upcoming tank of the future, the German and French military want more than just an improved version of tried and tested tank technology like the Leopard 2. The aim is to develop a high-tech system in which robotics and weapons such as high-speed missiles play a crucial role. The new weapon system is meant to become a military “game-changer”. Christian Mölling, Research Director of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin, is skeptical about whether the Poles can contribute to this by pursuing an arms strategy that would be necessary to achieve this:

Does that fit into a larger plan of how they actually want to build up a military defence base? Poland’s current development is that we practically have a centralisation of the Polish defence industry in one large industrial centre. I do not know if this is productive. At least, that is not how innovation has worked in recent years and decades. 

– Mölling

Poland has been trying for some time to reorganise its arms industry. Under the leadership of the Warsaw Ministry of Defence, more than 60 factories have been grouped in the so-called “Polish Armaments Group” (PGZ). The PGZ includes rifle manufacturers and shipyards. The PGZ is to mature into a powerful state arms holding company with the help of increased defense spending. Poland wants to be thereby able to equip its armed forces comprehensively and act as a strong player in the global arms market in the long term. However, there is practically no competition in the country for the “Polish Armaments Group”, which is usually poison when it comes to willingness to invest in research and innovation. Even during the founding phase of the PGZ in 2016, the Polish Audit Office criticised that there was no clear strategy for the political goal of building up a large arms company. For example, no investigation into possible synergistic effects of the companies concerned was carried out in advance. Against this background, Mölling warns against too high expectations of any Polish participation in the Franco-German tank project:

If you look from a competition perspective – from a Polish competition perspective – how many research and development investments have been made in other countries, then you might find that unfair or feel it is a denial of participation. However, in the end, it will not help the Polish industry, nor the German or French industry, to take on board a partner with whom one can subsequently produce products that either cannot be resold at all or are difficult to resell on just one accessible market; because you can’t sell to just anywhere. That also applies to the Germans and the French. It is not as if they were swimming in wealth due to their tank production. The fact that we have one tank production operation between KMW and Nexter – which is the only operation for which the Main Ground Combat System was even made – shows that there is not enough volume on the market. So it is also prudent to have a sense of realism here. 

– Mölling

The example of Poland clearly shows how difficult it will be to turn the Franco-German main battle tank project into a European armaments undertaking in which other EU countries can also participate. As is often the case, there is also a gap here between the declared goal of a common European defence and armaments policy and the national interests and opportunities of the actors. Overcoming these is a Herculean political task.

Posted in Armed Forces, Björn Müller, English, Security Policy, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Spoil(ers) of War

by Sascha Bruchmann. Sascha Bruchmann studied International Law and International Politics in Germany and the US. He worked as an analyst, covering the MENA region.

An Afghan security personnel carries a newborn baby from a hospital, at the site of an attack in Kabul on May 12, 2020.
Afghan security personnel carries a newborn baby from
a hospital at the site of an attack in Kabul on May 12, 2020.

On May 12, 2020, a group of gunmen stormed a hospital and maternity ward in Western Kabul, an area known to be religiously Shia and ethnically Hazara. The attackers killed as many as they could before being pinned down by the security forces. In the end, 24 people were killed, including two newborns and their mothers. The Hazara have been attacked again and again in this area over the past years. They have suffered and are angry. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for two other attacks the same day, but not specifically the hospital attack. However, the US government believes ISIS-K is responsible, and some high-ranking Afghan politicians even think that there is no meaningful distinction between ISIS-K and the Taliban. The Taliban have strictly denied any involvement. Still, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has given orders to the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces to attack the Taliban, reversing the defensive posture established since the declaration of a period of declining violence following the US-Taliban peace deal.

Why does an ISIS-K attack lead to the resumption of war between the Afghan government and the Taliban? The logical link seems tenuous at best, and yet the series of events are connected – by politics. Seen through the lenses of peace negotiations and internal balance of power calculations, the Afghan Government response to such a barbaric attack and its deranged sense of conflict logic is understandable. Here is an attempt to share the sense I make of a senseless crime.

Who are ISIS-K?
Assuming that ISIS-K exists inside Afghanistan, as Antonio Giustozzi has meticulously researched in his book “The Islamic State in Khorasan“, it all started with a detachment of Haqqani fighters sent from Pakistan to support fellow Jihadists in Syria in 2012. They returned in 2013 with a divergence of views from their old leadership.

Screenshot from a video of a ISIS-K training in Nangarhar published in 2015.
Screenshot from a video of an ISIS-K training in Nangarhar published in 2015.

In parallel, elements of a Pakistani Pashtun sub-tribe, the Orakzai, were pushed across the Pakistan-Afghan border during the Pakistani military operation Zarb-e Azb II in 2014. Some of these Orakzai were members of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban fighting an insurgency against the Pakistani government. Initially welcomed by the Pashtun Afghans, newly settled TTP fighters came to clash with locals in Southern Nangarhar. In the absence of either government or Taliban power projection and a deteriorating, almost anarchic security situation, the newly minted Jihadi Haqqanis who had returned from Syria and the TTP elements found common cause and ISIS-K in Eastern Afghanistan was born. The ongoing forced migration of the Orakzai and a plethora of other local and foreign militias already present has made it fertile ground for ISIS-K to take root. 

Now ISIS-K is a melting pot of different Afghan, Pakistani, and international Sunni radicals. It includes former Taliban from the Afghan and Pakistani franchises, with little in common. United only by religious zeal, it repeats the playbook that worked in the Middle East: attack Shia; cause their (over)reaction; within a climate of sectarian tension, pretend to be the savior of the threatened Sunni. ISIS-K wants the Hazara and other Shias to suffer and subsequently arm themselves. Once they do, ISIS-K will tell the Sunnis in Afghanistan that only ISIS-K is able to save them. That is the trap.

ISIS-K has attacked the ethnically Hazara population in Western Kabul with increasing regularity since 2014. Gruesome bombings on soft civilian targets have included: a protest march of the “Enlightenment Movementbombed in July 2016, a mosque attacked in June 2017, a wedding bombed in August 2019, and a memorial ceremony attacked in March 2020. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for most of these attacks.

Afghan protesters raise their hands as they chant anti-government slogans during a demonstration in Kabul in May 2016, held to demand that The Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TUTAP) electricity line linking energy-rich central Asia pass through a central Hazara-dominated area.
Afghan protesters raise their hands as they chant anti-government slogans during a demonstration in Kabul in May 2016, held to demand that The Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TUTAP) electricity line linking energy-rich central Asia pass through a central Hazara-dominated area.

What do they want?
ISIS-K wants to establish a caliphate. To do so, it needs to replace the Taliban. ISIS-K’ strategy is to grow through a sectarian war. Pir-Mohammed Molla-Zehi, an Iranian analyst, warned his Iranian countrymen in a 2017 interview not to send Afghan Hazara – known as the Fatemiyoun – used by Iran in the fight against ISIS in the Middle East back to Afghanistan: “The Fatemiyoun and other Divisions supported by Iran, are still not capable of mobilizing the Sunnis… With its past record, should the Fatemiyoun Division return to Afghanistan and not recruit Sunnis, it will in reality play the game of the Islamic State.” ISIS-K commander Abu Omar Khorasani justified bombing the rally on the “Enlightenment Movement” as early as July 2016 in sectarian terms.

Meanwhile, reports about the Fatemiyoun claim they have more than 10,000 fighterseven 20,000 fighters and that 50,000 Afghan refugees were recruited between 2013 and 2017. Hundreds have died. Moreover, the incentives were money and often a residence permit in Iran. Fighters were recruited from migrants inside Iran and have even built permanent bases in Syria.

Are they back in Afghanistan? The actual number inside Afghanistan is probably closer to 2,000. Rahmatullah Nabil, former Chief of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency NDS estimates 2,500-3,000 and that upon return to Afghanistan, the fighters scatter to their homes. It is reasonable to assume that the Fatemiyoun strength, organizational capacity, and will to fight are often grossly overestimated for domestic political purposes inside Afghanistan. One of the groups merged into the Fatemiyoun, Sepah-e Muhammad, were veteran Afghan anti-Taliban fighters. Iranian influence in Afghanistan today is much more diversified and less sectarian.

Nonetheless, the ISIS-K leadership believes the Sunni-Shia divide needs to come to a final battle in Khorasan. They are ready to attack. ISIS-K has limited appeal among Afghans and mostly exists in a vacuum of order and where the wars of the past decades have deposited Wahhabi and Salafi radicalism. This includes parts of Southern NangarharKunarWarduj and Kajaki. ISIS-K has been actively targeted by US forces, Afghan forces, and especially the Taliban in 2019 and was diminished. While the Afghan government declared its victory, the recent attacks show, this pronouncement was premature.

Qasem Soleimani (left) with Afghan Alireza Tavasoli, commander of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, who was killed fighting in Syria.
Qasem Soleimani with Afghan Alireza Tavasoli, commander of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, who was killed fighting in Syria.

A convenient scapegoat?
If ISIS-K wants to transplant a sectarian conflict from the Middle East to Afghanistan – with limited appeal – why does the Afghan government use an attack for the purpose to declare an offensive against the Taliban in the midst of a US-Taliban peace process? 

The Afghan government felt mostly excluded from US-Taliban talks, which culminated in the 29 February US-Taliban agreement. The Afghan government resisted much of the deal’s content, felt it was forced upon them, and believed it would weaken the Afghan Republic and constitution. Ghani and the young, reformist class around him want peace, but they want it on their terms – which means maintaining the status quo as much as possible. Along with feeling weakened vis-a-vie negotiations with the Taliban thanks to the US deal, the Afghan government fears dilution of its influence in the domestic fight against the older political classes: the former Northern Alliance and the supporters of former President Hamid Karzai. A fear played out in negotiations that culminated in the uneasy 17 May political settlement reached between Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah that extra-constitutionally seeks to increase the power of traditional structures, strong tribes, and power brokers – those often branded warlords and jihadis, mafias, backward minded or Taliban sympathizers – at the expense of those young, urban, nationalist Afghans aligned with Ghani. Simply, the government does not want the current US-driven vision of “peace”.

Cue, ISIS-K as a spoiler to the US imposed “peace”. ISIS-K, which has a history and ideology similar to some Taliban factions, alleged support from Pakistan and even some former Taliban in its ranks. The new 1st Vice President, Amrullah Saleh, was firm in its indictment and made the connection between ISIS-K and the Taliban shortly after the attack. In a similar vein, Ghani mentioned the “symbiotic and organic relations between the Taliban and Daesh” in his inauguration speech on March 10, 2020.

For Saleh, the Taliban and ISIS-K exist as a continuum of pawns of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, born of the idea of strategic depth as envisioned by former Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq. Thus, to Saleh and others, the Islamists are all one. This is a popular opinion among the urban, nationalist youth and hardly a new one among international analysts, and has recently even resonated inside Pakistan. Some ISIS-K are former Taliban; they are using similar tactics, conduct similar attacks, and are recruiting in the same areas, and ISIS-K sees the Afghan government also as an enemy.

So, Saleh is right? It is more complex than that. The Taliban fight ISIS-K. They have fought massive battles in NangarharJowzjanKunar and other areas last year. ISIS-K wants to usurp the Islamist throne in Afghanistan and make it a hotbed for transnational Jihadism, whereas the Taliban want to rule in Afghanistan. They compete for funds, recruits, territory. ISIS-K wants to replace the Taliban. Because they are so similar in some ways, they cannot coexist and are in mortal combat. The Taliban also believe ISIS-K is way too useful for the US in the peace negotiations. They believe the presence and existence of ISIS-K could be used by the US to demand counter-terrorism forces stay behind after the peace deal. The Taliban want US forces out. The Taliban fear, ISIS-K would be a convenient tool to say, if you cannot destroy them, we need our military and intelligence footprint.

So what?
Foreign Policy asked if the peace deal is dead on arrival? Not just yet. Some are fighting to kill it, while some are fighting to preserve it. Afghan politics is divided, so are the opinions of veteran military and diplomats. To start a sectarian conflict, ISIS-K will continue its terrible attacks for its agenda. The Fatemiyoun is less of a threat inside Afghanistan than it is made to appear. ISIS-K attacks will be used for politics between the US, Taliban, and Afghan government, with all trying to emphasize their view on the peace deal through the lens of these horrific attacks. ISIS and the Fatemiyoun are thus, proxies, in more than one sense. Their actions are watched and exploited by their sponsors and enemies alike.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar shake hands after signing the peace agreement between US, Taliban, in Doha in February 2020.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar shake hands after signing the peace agreement between the US, Taliban, in Doha in February 2020.

ISIS-K is a catalyst. It is a spoiler, but its actual battlefield power is limited. It has proven resilient in some areas and will use the current government infighting, the offensive against the Taliban, US withdrawal, and the COVID-19 pandemic to lick its wounds. ISIS-K will be able to grow back in those communities where it has some local support. It is up to the Afghan government, power brokers, and the Taliban to stick to peace. When they turn their weapons on each other, ISIS-K will thrive in the vacuum. ISIS-K only has space to incite sectarian violence if the other powers grant it in their political and military conflict.

The US-Taliban peace deal is under much pressure. Despite 40 years of conflict, the country seems on the verge of being ripe for peace. However, fears about losing are dominant in parts of the cities that have been free of Taliban influence for the past 20 years, especially amongst the educated young and winners of the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the countryside has been ravaged by conflict lines moving across the country like wandering dunes. Many villages are ready for peace. Cities are ready too, but not for the price that they fear – the return of Sharia rule as used by the Taliban until 2001. War will go on as long as this equation does not change. Unfortunately, ISIS is one of those groups trying to change it. It needs to be stopped.

Posted in Afghanistan, English, Sascha Bruchmann, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

China Builds Carrier Support Infrastructure on Hainan

Maxar imagery acquired November 2019
Maxar imagery acquired November 2019

In December 2019, China commissioned its second aircraft carrier Shandong (CV-17) at the Sanya-Yulin naval base on Hainan Island near the South China Sea. Officials announced that the location will become the vessel’s home-port where it will join the 9th Destroyer Flotilla. This outcome has been speculated since 2012 when workers constructed a carrier berth on the island. Ongoing monitoring of additional construction activity now suggests that China likely intends to build a new graving dock large enough to accommodate its aircraft carriers and other large surface combatants. The graving dock, located at 18.2167 109.5572 immediately north of the carrier pier, continues to see significant progress. Once the dock is complete, Chinese carriers operating in the South Sea Fleet could undergo extensive maintenance and or refits without relocating back to Dalian or potentially other commercial docks. It’s yet another indicator of China’s commitment to support a growing presence in the region.

Posted in Armed Forces, China, English, Intelligence, International, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Leave a comment

The significance of MiG-29s entering the Libyan conflict

by Paul Iddon

In a potentially significant development, Russian-built MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets are reportedly being deployed in Libya amid the ongoing civil war. The jets are either being supplied to or will be flown in support of the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by General Khalifa Haftar. The arrival of the MiGs comes shortly after Haftar suffered a significant strategic setback at the hands of his opponent, the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. 

A May 19 satellite photo showed at least one MiG-29 on the tarmac of the LNA-held Al Jufra airbase in central Libya. According to Fathi Bashagha, the Minister of Interior of the GNA, at least six MiG-29s along with two Su-24 Fencer bombers were flown from Russia’s Hmeimim Airbase in western Syria, escorted by two Su-35 Flanker-E Russian air force jets.

Almost a week earlier, a Russian Tu-154 Careless reportedly landed in Iran’s Hamedan Airbase. Six MiG-29s escorted the plane — possibly repaired, probably modernized, Syrian Air Force fighters — leading to speculation that they were the same aircraft now in Libya. As of writing, it is unclear if the jets were supplied directly from the Russian arsenal or the Syrian one. Syria’s MiG-29s, however, are visibly in poor shape, and an overhaul would have been costly. 

It is also not clear if this is the beginning of direct Russian military intervention in the Libyan Civil War of the kind it made in the Syrian Civil War back in September 2015. If so, there are some parallels between the situation in Libya today and in Syria then. For one, the LNA is increasingly on the defensive in Libya as a result of the GNA’s Turkish-backed “Operation Peace Storm”, which was launched in late March and won the GNA some notable battlefield victories. Back in 2015, Assad was on the defensive against various ragtag rebel groups seeking to topple his regime. They could well have done so had Russia not intervened as quickly and decisively as it did. 

Direct Russian intervention in the Libyan conflict wouldn’t be all that surprising. Moscow has already deployed Wagner Group’s paramilitary fighters on the side of the LNA. The US also recently accused Russia of secretly helping Assad move militiamen from Syria to Libya to fight with the LNA. 

Haftar has been trying to capture Tripoli since April 2019. Despite receiving backing from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France and Russia, he has failed to do so. Since the launch of “Operation Peace Storm” in late March, Turkey’s support of the GNA has helped the group launch an increasing number of counterattacks, reducing the likelihood that Haftar can ever achieve his goal of conquering the Libyan capital. 

In a warehouse of long retired Mi-24A Hind A uncovered at Al-Watiya  (32°28'56.36"N 11°53'34.19"E).
In a warehouse of long-retired Mi-24A Hind A uncovered at
Al-Watiya (32°28’56.36″N 11°53’34.19″E).

Turkish Bayraktar drones, struck the western LNA-held al-Watiya airbase with 57 airstrikes and then captured it on May 18. GNA fighters at the base jubilantly posed for photographs beside captured military hardware. Equipment included aged fighter jets like Dassault Mirage F1s, Su-22 Fitters, and Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships, leftovers from the Gaddafi-era Libya military that have long been rendered inoperable. However, in a major propaganda coup, the GNA militiamen also captured a Pantsir-S1 (NATO reporting name SA-22 Greyhound) air defence missile system, which appeared intact. Subsequent GNA airstrikes also destroyed other Pantsir-S1s in the LNA’s possession. The formidable Russian medium-range air defence systems were probably, at least partly, supplied by the UAE, given their German-built Man-SX 45 eight-wheeled trucks, which are a distinct characteristic of Emirati Pantsir batteries. This version can be seen in some photos in addition to the standard ones, mounted on the KAMAZ-6560 8×8 chassis, which are probably employed by Wagner.

In light of these setbacks, Russia may well be intervening more decisively to bolster Haftar as well as send a clear message to Turkey not to cross certain lines in the Libyan conflict. 

The arrival of the MiG-29s has emboldened the LNA despite these recent setbacks. The jets’ purported arrival coincided with a threat by the group’s Air Force chief, Saqr al-Jaroushi, to unleash the “largest aerial campaign in Libyan history in the coming hours”. He also warned that Turkish positions are now “legitimate targets” for the LNA’s air force.

Turkey responded in kind, with presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın warning that “[w]e will respond to any attacks on our missions and interests in the strongest way and stress once again that we will consider Haftar elements as legitimate targets”.

Russian Wagner mercenaries were sighted on the streets of Bani Walid when they withdrew from the front in Tripoli on 23 May.
Russian Wagner mercenaries were sighted on the streets
of Bani Walid when they withdrew from the front in Tripoli
on 23 May.

The LNA claimed that they shot down seven Turkish drones south of Bani Walid and Tarhuna as well as destroying 20 GNA armoured vehicles in an airstrike against Gharyan city shortly after Ankara warned against any attacks on its interests in Libya. LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari also claimed that the group has successfully refurbished four Libyan warplanes without specifying what types. Although judging from remnants of the old Libyan Air Force, they are probably nothing more advanced than antiquated Soviet-era MiG-21 Fishbeds and MiG-23 Floggers. “The time has come for them to be used at their maximum fire power,” he said, echoing Jaroushi’s aforementioned declaration. However, it is unclear if any of these claims are true or if they are mere posturing on the LNA’s part to boost morale in light of the loss of al-Watiya and Turkey’s stepped-up military involvement in the conflict.

Aside from supplying its ally the GNA with several Bayraktar TB2 drones, armoured vehicles, and even thousands of Syrian militiamen, Turkey also flexed its military muscles more directly in the Libyan conflict in recent months. It sent two of its modernized ex-US Navy Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates to the Libyan coast. On April 1, one of those frigates even fired an SM-1 surface-to-air missile at an LNA drone. Turkish Air Force F-16s, along with aerial refuelling tankers, also appeared off the Libyan coast, demonstrating the potential capability of the Turkish Air Force to strike LNA targets. 

It is against this backdrop that MiG-29s have purportedly entered the Libyan fray. Their use in the coming days and weeks could play a significant role — especially if openly flown by Russian Air Force pilots that Turkey would not dare engage — in shaping the outcome of this increasingly violent conflict.

Update from June 1st, 2020
Last Friday, the U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) issued a statement that Moscow has indeed deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya. The goal is to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs) operating on the ground there. According to USAFRICOM “Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the Libyan National Army’s fight against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord.” USAFRICOM beliefes that the Russian-supplied aircraft are flown by Russian mercenary pilots. USAFRICOM commander General Stephen Townsend said that “Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya. Just like I saw them doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner.” U.S. Air Force General Jeff Harrigian warns that “[i]f Russia seizes basing on Libya’s coast, the next logical step is they deploy permanent long-range anti-access area denial capabilities. If that day comes, it will create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank.”

Posted in Armed Forces, English, International, Libya, Paul Iddon, Proliferation, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Road to Where? Italian Army Procurement and Reforms

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

First sea trials for the Paolo Thaon di Revel PPA multipurpose offshore ships in November 2019, which is built for the Italian Navy.
First sea trials for the Paolo Thaon di Revel PPA multipurpose offshore ships in November 2019, built for the Italian Navy.

In recent years, as Italy has sought to project security throughout its neighbourhood, the Italian Army has played an increasingly important role. Italy has deployed 470 troops to Niger on a bilateral assistance mission and another 400 to Libya, while a few hundred more are deployed on various NATO and EU operations elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, such as the EU Training Mission (EUTM) Somalia. Beyond this African security push, more than 500 Italian troops participate in NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR), and significant troop deployments to Iraq continue under Operation Prima Parthica, part of the United States-led Operation Inherent Resolve. It is surprising, therefore, that the Italian Army has often lost out in the procurement initiatives of the Italian Armed Forces, with much resources recently going toward force modernization and expansion plans put forward by two of the other three branches – specifically, the Italian Navy and the Italian Air Force.

The need for force modernization in the Italian Army is made all the more apparent when one considers how, as of 2017, Italy had participated in as many overseas military missions as Germany and almost twice as many as Spain, while Italy had deployed significantly more forces than either of those two countries. The delay in Army procurement might well owe to domestic political considerations: even as the Italian Army was deployed on many of the aforementioned missions, the Italian government awarded €5.4 billion to Fincantieri and Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica), both Italian defence manufacturers, to construct a new Logistic Support Ship (Vulcan-class), seven Multipurpose Offshore Patrol Ships (Paolo Thaon di Revel-class) with four more in option and one Landing Helicopter Dock (Trieste) for the Navy. This occurred when Italy’s then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was struggling with an ever more fractious coalition government and a deep economic recession. Shipbuilding might well have been seen as an economic stimulus.

However, in January 2020, the signing of several contracts by the Secretariat General of Defence and National Arms Directorate (SGD/NAD) has secured a path forward for Army modernization. There will also undoubtedly be the political will necessary to see these contracts through, given the prominent role the Italian Army has played in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, as troops were deployed to enforce curfews in the Lombardy region in March 2020, for example. These contracts include an order of 20,000 Individual Combat Systems (ICS’s) under the “Safe Soldier” initiative, an Italian offshoot of the US-led Future Soldier program. These ICS’s include new body armour, a command and control (C2) system, and a lightweight individual pocket radio (IPR), the sum of which is intended to improve the survivability of the Italian soldier and enhance small unit coordination. 

The new landing helicopter dock (LHD) Trieste (L9890) of the Italian Navy launched in May 2019.

Beyond this, the Italian Army has acquired 126 Spike anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launchers from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, expected to enter service in 2021, and an additional 30 Freccia infantry fighting vehicles (IFV’s). The IvecoOto Melara Consortium, another Italian defence manufacturer, has been contracted to provide 136 new Centauro II tank destroyers. The Skyguard medium-range air defence system is being phased out by 2021, in favour of the Grifo system and the Common Anti-air Modular Missile Extended Range (CAMM-ER), a single-stage supersonic missile. Of particular importance, Leonardo has been awarded €337 million to develop and supply 15 Light Utility Helicopters, based on the AgustaWestland AW169, with the possibility to order a further 35 in the near future. This will serve to update the Italian Army’s operational airlift capabilities, which depend on a fleet of domestic variants on the Bell 205, 212, and 412 helicopters. 

The Italian Army will also benefit from the cancellation, announced in July 2019, of the 2013 reforms. Included within these reforms would have been the consolidation of all training regiments, centres, and schools under the newly established Army Formation, Specialization, and Doctrine Command (COMFORDOT) in Rome. This could have undermined unique capabilities afforded to the Italian Army by its specialized and relatively independent training centres, such as the Alpine Training Centre in Aosta and the Parachuting Training Centre in Pisa, by moving resources to Rome or otherwise centralizing the development of training curriculum to institutions lacking in traditions or formal experience.

The new Centauro II tank destroyer
The new Centauro II tank destroyer

However, Italian policymakers should revisit the question of reforms, albeit through a different lens than that pursued in 2013. For example, Italy’s Ministry of Defence released a White Paper in 2015 that envisions a series of concentric circles into which Italy should project security – respectively, the Euro-Atlantic region, the Euro-Mediterranean region, and the “global system” – and then articulates a series of steps that the Italian defence establishment might pursue to enhance the effectiveness of this security projection, including improvements to recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces, changes to logistics management, and higher investments in cyber-security. It also calls for a Strategic Defence Review (SDR) to be conducted within six months of the White Paper’s release, though there is no indication that the SDR was conducted. To do so would afford a valuable opportunity to discuss what the Italian Army’s role should be in the future. Should it be primarily used in an expeditionary capacity, working to stabilize potential conflict areas, or should it be concentrated on the defence of a shared European security space against the perceived threat of Russian aggression? Alternatively, should the Italian Army be primarily concerned, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its heavy toll on Italy, with an emergency response? The answers to these questions, whatever they may be, would help to ensure that future procurement initiatives and reforms help to equip the Army for that mission.

The procurement of new equipment underway, as part of the “Safe Soldier” system, is a positive step in modernizing the Italian Army. As a valuable tool of Italian foreign and security policy, more than carrying its weight despite the lack of a clear strategic vision, it deserves more attention from policymakers.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, International, Italy, Paul Pryce, Security Policy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Coronavirus Pandemie: Was bedeutet die Pandemie für die Zukunft der Klimapolitik?

Nicht nur der Einsatz moderner Technologien ist in der Coronavirus Pandemie verglichen zu vorhergehenden Pandemien einzigartig, sondern auch die temporäre Reduktion der globalen Treibhausgasemissionen ist verglichen mit früheren Wirtschaftskrisen und Kriegsperioden beispiellos. Gemäss der International Energy Agency könnte die diesjährige globale Kohlendioxydemission aufgrund der Pandemie im Vergleich zum Vorjahr um 8% tiefer liegen. Der Grund dafür ist offensichtlich: Ende April befanden sich etwa 4,2 Milliarden Menschen (bzw. 54% der Weltbevölkerung), die ungefähr 60% des globalen Bruttoinlandsproduktes ausmachen, in einem Lock-Down-Modus, und beinahe die gesamte Weltbevölkerung war in irgendeiner Weise von den restriktiven Massnahmen betroffen. Die Reduktion des Kohlendioxyd- und Schadstoffausstosses ist unter anderem auf eine massive Reduktion des Personen- und Gütertransportes und auf einen signifikant tieferen Kohleverbrauchs zur Stromproduktion in China und Indien zurückzuführen.

Diese Emissionsreduktionen sind jedoch nicht nachhaltig. Die Voraussagen sind zudem mit so vielen beeinflussenden Faktoren verbunden, dass sie eher einen qualitativen als quantitativen Charakter besitzen. Ausserdem beeinflusst eine solche einmalige Emissionsreduktion die Konzentration der Treibhausgase in der Atmosphäre kaum. Im Gegenteil wird auch dieses Jahr die Konzentration an Kohlendioxyd in der Atmosphäre weiter zunehmen. Die Nachfrage nach Energie und damit die Zunahme der Treibhausgasemissionen werden sich je nach wirtschaftlicher Erholung, welche sich gestützt auf den chinesischen Erfahrungen nach Aufhebung der restriktiven Massnahmen eher langsam vollziehen, bis 2021 wieder zunehmen und womöglich wegen eines gewissen wirtschaftlichen Nachholbedarfs sogar deutlich die dies- und letztjährigen Zahlen übersteigen. Zum Vergleich: Um die globale Klimaerwärmung nachhaltig zu beeinflussen und auf weniger als 1,5°C über den vorindustriellen Temperaturen zu begrenzen, müssten die globalen Emissionen in diesem Jahrzehnt jedes Jahr um etwa 7,6% sinken.

COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of our societies to global shocks, such as disease or the climate crisis. As we recover, we must build a better future for all. Together, we can protect our planet, improve health, reduce inequality & re-energize struggling economies. — UN Secretary General António Guterres.

Auf den ersten Blick zeigt die Pandemie auf, welcher unheimlicher Kraftakt notwendig zu sein scheint, um die Ziele des Übereinkommens von Paris einhalten zu können. Dies wäre jedoch nur dann der Fall, wenn sofort durch kurzfristige Massnahmen diese Ziele verfolgt würden, was zwar bei einer Pandemie zur Reduktion der Reproduktionszahl sinnvoll ist, jedoch bei der Eindämmung der Klimaerwärmung nichts bringen würde. Bei der Klimapolitik müssen die angestrebten Ziele durch langfristige, strukturelle Massnahmen verfolgt werden. Ausserdem kann so der Wohlstand der Gesellschaft aufrechterhalten oder weiter ausgebaut werden. Es geht insbesondere darum, emissionsintensive wirtschaftliche und gesellschaftliche Prozesse durch modernere, emissionsreduzierte Technologien zu ersetzen und so über längere Zeit nicht nur zunehmend die Treibhausgasemissionen zu verringern, sondern auch die Konzentration in der Atmosphäre zu stabilisieren. Ein Beispiel dafür ist der Ersatz der Kohle durch Photovoltaik bei der Stromproduktion.

Anteil der globalen CO2-Emissionen aus fossilen Brenn-
stoffen und Zement, der auf jeden der sechs Wirtschafts-
sektoren entfällt (Quelle: Corinne Le Quéré et al.,
Temporary Reduction in Daily Global CO 2 Emissions
during the COVID-19 Forced Confinement“, Nature Climate
Change, 19.05.2020; Graphik von Carbon Brief).

Einige Faktoren der Coronavirus Pandemie, welche in ähnlicher Weise auch bei der Klimaerwärmung auftreten, erschweren den Umgang mit diesen Herausforderungen. Da wäre beispielsweise die Latenzzeit: Bei der Pandemie können die Konsequenzen von Entscheiden — beispielsweise bei der Verschärfung oder Lockerung der repressiven Massnahmen — erst rund zwei Wochen später ausgewertet werden, was die Führung während der Krise extrem erschwert. Massnahmen im Bereich der Klimaerwärmung haben im Vergleich dazu jedoch erst in Jahren oder gar in Jahrzehnten einen Effekt. Dies führt bei den Entscheidungsträgern eher zu einem zögerlichen Verhalten, was bei der Pandemie in gewissen Staaten zu mehr Infektionen und Todesfällen führte. Wenn die Entscheidungsträger bei der Bekämpfung der Klimaerwärmung ebenfalls zögerlich vorgehen und warten bis die negativen Effekte deutlich spürbar werden, so kann dies unvorstellbare Konsequenzen nach sich ziehen, welche dann kurz- und mittelfristig nicht mehr beeinflussbar sind. Bei der Pandemie haben seit Jahren existierende Notfallszenarien und Massnahmenkataloge in vielen Staaten aus wirtschaftlichen und politischen Gründen zu keinen präventiven Massnahmen und zu einer angepassten Bevorratung geführt. Dabei würden präventive Massnahmen und eine adäquate Vorbereitung auf eine solche Krisensituation insgesamt Menschenleben retten und volkswirtschaftliche Kosten verringern. Auch in diesem Bereich wäre zu hoffen, dass sowohl die Entscheidungsträger wie auch die Gesellschaft die richtigen Lehren hinsichtlich der globalen Klimaerwärmung ziehen würden.

Die Pandemie zeigt auch, dass das individuelle Verhalten jedes Einzelnen auf globaler Ebene durchaus einen Effekt auslösen kann. Dies ist dann der Fall, wenn durch eine Kombination von Sinnvermittlung, Anreize aber in gewissen Bereichen auch durch restriktive Massnahmen dieses Verhalten weltweit durchgesetzt werden kann. Doch auch wenn eine Veränderung des individuellen Verhaltens einen Beitrag zur Bekämpfung der Klimaerwärmung leisten kann (beispielsweise auf Flugreisen zu verzichten oder eine deutliche Reduktion des Fleischkonsums), so können entscheidende Reduktionen der Treibhausgasemissionen nur durch langfristige strukturelle Veränderungen erreicht werden. In einem Artikel für das World Economic Forum schlägt Laurie Goering Massnahmen vor, welche aus der Coronavirus Pandemie für die Bekämpfung der Klimaerwärmung abgeleitet werden können:

  • Stärkere Etablierung einer “Home-Office”-Kultur und eine ausgeprägtere Virtualisierung von Treffen, Sitzungen, Konferenzen, Ausbildungen usw. Damit verbunden sollen die Investitionen in Breitband- und 5G-Verbindungen ausgebaut werden. Diese Massnahmen sollen den Verkehr und damit den Schadstoffausstieg reduzieren. Weiter wirken sich auch Zeiteinsparungen für Arbeitnehmer und Arbeitgeber positiv aus.
  • Mehr Platz für Fussgänger und Fahrradfahrer in den Städten. Dies soll Anreize setzen, dass Arbeitnehmer, welche nicht von zu Hause aus arbeiten können, in Kombination mit öffentlichen Verkehrsmitteln eher zu Fuss und mit dem Fahrrad zur Arbeit gehen. Ausserdem soll der möglichst klimaneutrale öffentliche Verkehr ausgebaut werden.
  • Mit den sehr tiefen Ölpreisen sollen jetzt Subventionen abgebaut und dafür Steuern auf fossile Rohstoffe erhoben werden, um einerseits klimaneutrale Alternativenergien preislich attraktiv zu halten und das so eingenommene Geld in Projekte zur Verringerung der Treibhausgasemissionen zu investieren.
  • Auf- und Ausbau des Netzwerks an Elektroladestationen für Elektrofahrzeuge.
  • Pflanzen von Bäumen, was nicht nur langfristig die Aufnahme und die Speicherung von Kohlendioxyd aus der Atmosphäre ermöglicht, sondern zusätzlich auch Arbeitsplätze schafft. Beispielsweise setzen in Pakistan mehr als 63’000 Arbeitslose Baumsetzlingen ein. Dies ist ein Teil eines umfassenderen in 2018 vom pakistanischen Ministerpräsidenten Imran Khan initiierten “10-Milliarden-Baum-Tsunami”-Programms, um die verarmten Wälder wiederaufzubauen, den Klimawandel zu bekämpfen und Arbeitslosen ein Einkommen zu verschaffen.
  • Aufbau klimaresistenter Infrastruktur, wie beispielsweise Deiche zum Schutz vor Überschwemmungen.
  • Ausbau des sozialen Sicherheitsnetzes, welches sowohl in reicheren wie auch in ärmeren Staaten gefährdete Personen besser schützen soll. Dies könnte die allgemeine Widerstandsfähigkeit gegen zukünftige Krisensituationen stärken.

Viele Staaten reagieren auf die Coronavirus Pandemie mit Rettungs- und Konjunkturpaketen. Bei den Rettungspaketen geht es darum Unternehmen und Arbeitnehmer vor Konkurs und Arbeitslosigkeit durch die staatlich verordneten, restriktiven Massnahmen zur Eindämmung der Pandemie zu schützen und die Liquidität der Wirtschaft aufrecht zu erhalten. Bei den Konjunkturpaketen geht es im Gegensatz dazu um die Wiederbelebung der Wirtschaft nach der Aufhebung der restriktiven Massnahmen bzw. nach der Pandemie. Rettungspakete werden oftmals in Form von rückzahlbaren Darlehen oder Kreditgarantien umgesetzt und beinhalten wenig Potential diese Abgaben mit ökologischen Faktoren zu verbinden. Im Gegenteil müssen solche Zahlungen möglichst unkompliziert und schnell an relativ viele Empfänger verteilt werden. Eine Studie der Universität Oxford von anfangs Mai ergab, dass von den rund 300 Rettungsmassnahmen der G20-Staaten nur 4% eine positive und gleichzeitig ebenfalls 4% eine negative Auswirkung auf die Umwelt haben. Die überwiegende Mehrheit (92%) verhalten sich neutral und stellen den Status Quo vor der Pandemie wieder her. Ein Beispiel dafür ist das 25 Milliarden US-Dollar umfassende US-amerikanische Rettungspaket für Fluggesellschaften, bei welchem keine ökologischen Ziele oder Auflagen implementiert wurden.

Eine grössere Chance bilden jedoch Konjunkturpakete, weil hier tendenziell langfristige Investitionen getätigt werden. Deshalb werden die in den nächsten 12 Monaten durch die Pandemie verursachten nun anstehenden finanziellen und wirtschaftlichen Entscheidungen die Weltwirtschaft und damit auch die Treibhausgasemissionen für das nächste Jahrzehnt prägen. Dies ist auch die Zeitspanne in der die Treibhausgasemissionen mindestens halbieren werden müssen, wenn die Ziele des Übereinkommens von Paris eingehalten werden sollen. Investitionen in Betriebe und Wirtschaftssektoren könnten beispielsweise davon abhängig gemacht werden, dass das Geld wenigstens zum Teil in klimafreundlichere Technologien investiert wird. Ein Beispiel dafür ist das EU-Konjunkturprogramm, welches einen Umfang von 500 Milliarden Euro umfassen soll. Die deutsche Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel und der französische Präsident Emanuel Macron betonten bei der Vorstellung des Programms, dass vor allem die Digitalisierung und der Kampf gegen die Klimaerwärmung eine grosse Rolle spielen sollen. Das hat auch damit zu tun, dass die EU bereits einen “Green Deal” für die Periode zwischen 2019 und 2024 konzeptioniert hat und nun diese Massnahmen mit einem COVID-19 Konjunkturprogramm kombiniert werden kann. Dies ist auch deshalb wichtig, weil dieses Geld nur einmal investiert werden kann und nicht zuerst zur Bekämpfung der wirtschaftlichen Folgen der Pandemie und darauf noch einmal zur Bekämpfung der Klimaerwärmung.

Wenn diese Chance nicht ergriffen wird, könnte sich die Pandemie langfristig auch negativ auswirken. Bereits ist spürbar, wie das Momentum der Klimaaktionen von letztem Jahr abgenommen hat. So wurden beispielsweise aufgrund der Pandemie alle öffentlichen Klimastreiks und Strassendemonstrationen im Rahmen der globalen sozialen Bewegung “Fridays for Future” abgesagt. Auch die für dieses Jahr vorgesehenen multilateralen, koordinierenden Massnahmen zur Bekämpfung der globalen Klimaerwärmung konnten wegen abgesagten Konferenzen nicht weiter ausgehandelt werden. So wurde beispielsweise die 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) vom November 2020 auf ein noch nicht definiertes Datum in 2021 verschoben. Personelle und finanzielle Ressourcen welche zur Bekämpfung der Klimaerwärmung in diesem Jahr vorgesehen waren, wurden eher für die Bekämpfung der Pandemie eingesetzt. Ausserdem haben es multilaterale Ansätze in Zukunft noch schwerer, denn durch die Pandemie hat sich die globale Polarisierung — nicht nur zwischen den USA und China — eher noch verstärkt, und die Kompromissbereitschaft zwischen den Staaten hat tendenziell abgenommen. So wie die Finanzkrise 2008 die Gesellschaft in einigen Staaten polarisierte und soziale Gräben aufgerissen hatte, könnte sich auch die Pandemie als Katalysator einer solchen Tendenz auf internationaler Ebene auswirken.

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Revisiting the Cypriot S-300 Crisis

by Paul Iddon

During the second half of the 1990s, Turkey and Cyprus became locked in a tense standoff over the island nation’s purchase of Russian S-300 air defense missile systems (to be precise: the S-300PMU-1). Throughout the crisis, there was a debate about the risks and general wisdom of a European state buying such advanced Russian weaponry that has some relevance today in light of Turkey’s controversial purchase and fielding of more advanced Russian S-400 air defense missiles.

In December 2013, Greek armed forces test-fired its Russian-made S-300 air defense system for the first time since it was bought 14 years ago.
In December 2013, Greece’s Hellenic Air Force test-fired its Russian-made S-300 air defense system for the first time since it was received 14 years ago from the Cypriot National Guard (“Greece Tests Russian-Made S-300 Missile System for First Time“, Sputnik News, December 14, 2013).


In 1996, Greek Cyprus, which had been under an arms embargo from the United States since 1987 that aimed to prevent an arms race on the partitioned island, took deliver of T-80U main battle tanks and BMP-3 armored personnel carriers. The military hardware was prominently displayed in a military parade in the capital Nicosia shortly afterward (“Russia the target in missiles row”, The Guardian, January 15, 1997). Then, Cyprus ordered S-300 missiles from Russia, ostensibly to deter regular overflights of Turkish warplanes through its airspace. The multi-million-dollar arms deal was the most significant arms purchase tiny Cyprus ever made. 

This promptly triggered the Cypriot S-300 Crisis. Turkey threatened to either blockade Cyprus or launch a preemptive attack to destroy the missiles the moment they arrived on the island (Tony Barber, “Turkey hints at strike on Cypriot missiles,” The Independent, January 11, 1997). Greece warned that it would retaliate over such a strike while the United States advised Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides to cancel the arms purchase to defuse the crisis. Clerides found himself in a difficult situation since he ordered the missiles and thus had a personal and political stake in not succumbing to Turkish threats. He declared that Cyprus would only back down from the deal if longstanding proposals for the island’s complete demilitarization were implemented. 

Air defense missiles an offensive threat to Turkey?

(click to enlarge)

Then-Turkish Defense Minister Turhan Tayan compared the unfolding crisis to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (Chris Nutall, “Turkey threatens Cyprus attack”, The Guardian, January 11, 1997). This was because, far from being capable of merely defending Cyprus’ airspace, the S-300s also could track and target Turkish military aircraft operating within Turkey’s airspace. However, as can be seen in the image on the right, the system did not pose a significant threat to Turkish interests (Sean O’Connor, “IMINT & Analysis: The Cypriot Missile Crisis“, IMINT & Analysis, May 1, 2008).

At the time, journalists made analogies to the Cuban missile crisis. “Turkey responded like the United States did in 1962 when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles south of Miami,” wrote journalists Jack Anderson and Jan Moller at the time. CIA sources cited by them claimed that Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov had aggressively lobbied for the sale as part of a strategy to undermine the NATO alliance, in response to that its expansion into Eastern Europe in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia claimed that economic reasons motivated the sale in light of the financial crisis it faced at the time.  (“U.N. presides over Cypriot stalemate”, United Feature Syndicate, January 4, 1999). 

Prominent New York Times columnist William Safire also compared the Cypriot S-300 Crisis to the Cuban Missile Crisis, going so far as to charge that Primakov saw “himself as a new Andrei Gromyko“, who was the Soviet Foreign Minister during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “The nuclear missiles Gromyko lied about were 90 miles from the United States; these offensively defensive SAM’s are 50 miles from Turkey,” Safire wrote (“Russian missiles in Cyprus spell trouble”, The New York Times, July 7, 1998). 

The United States also expressed worries about Russian technicians being sent to Cyprus to set up the missiles since they could use the system’s powerful radar to monitor air traffic, including NATO aircraft, over the strategically-important Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus sought to assuage these concerns. Then-Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides insisted that “[n]o Russian technicians will be manning [the] weapons. [The] weapons will be manned by our [Cypriot] people.” He also charged that the United States had overreacted to the S-300 deal, pointing out that Cyprus already had short-range anti-aircraft missiles but did not use them, even though Turkish warplanes continuously violated its sovereign airspace. “We would only use the missiles on the occasion of an air attack by Turkey,” he insisted. Clerides went one step further and pointed out that Cyprus had already bought Exocet anti-ship missiles from France. “Which is more provocative, sinking a frigate with an Exocet or shooting down a plane with an anti-aircraft missile,” he asked rhetorically (Jack Payton, “Cyprus tension crosses ‘line’”, St. Petersburg Times, June 21, 1998). 

Greek Cypriots felt such concerns were hypocritical because the United States had already approved a sale of 120 MGM-140 ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) to Turkey in December 1995, which were arguably more threatening offensive weapon systems than the S-300s. The U.S. Department of Defense insisted that this arms deal would not “adversely affect either the military balance in the region or U.S. efforts to encourage a negotiated settlement of the Cyprus question.” Nevertheless, Athens and Nicosia worried since the missiles 160-kilometer range and its highly accurate 450 kg payload would give Ankara the capability to devastate defenseless Greek Cypriot targets directly from southern Turkey (Michális S. Michael, “Resolving the Cyprus Conflict: Negotiating History“, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, p. 146). 

Standoff and deescalation

Turkey flexed its military muscles and sought to demonstrate that it was deadly serious about its threats of military action. The late 1990s were, therefore, the tensest time the island witnessed since the Turkish invasion in 1974. Back then, Turkey intervened militarily after the coup d’état of the Cypriot National Guard against the Cypriot President and Archbishop Makarios, invaded the northern third of the island and established an internationally-unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Turkey maintained, and still does, approximately 30,000 troops in the TRNC, a large enough force to threaten or even outright invade the rest of the island. 

In early November 1997, to hammer home its threats, Turkey launched a massive military exercise in the TRNC (see video above). During the operation, Turkish commandos destroyed a mock S-300 missile platform with time bombs in a clear and direct warning against Greek Cyprus. Hundreds of spectating Turkish Cypriots cheered as flames consumed the mock site. In the air, Turkish AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters fired missiles, and F-16 jet fighter-bombers flew in formation. Two Turkish Black Hawk helicopters carried commandos on ropes displaying the Turkish and TRNC flags. On the ground, Turkish M60 tanks and armored personnel carriers carried out maneuvres (“Cyprus: Turkish troops undertake military exercises“, AP, November 5, 1997). Such a display of combined arms aptly demonstrated Turkey’s ability to threaten Greek Cyprus militarily. 

On June 16, 1998, Greece deployed four F-16s along with two C-130 transport planes to an airbase near the western town of Paphos in Greek Cyprus. Turkey condemned the move as a provocation and responded two days later by sending six F-16s to an airstrip in the TRNC. The Turkish jets flew over both the Greek and Turkish parts of Nicosia at such a low altitude that “the Turkish crescent could be seen on the plane’s wings” from the ground (Hamza Hendawi, “Cyprus tensions flare up”, AP, June 21, 1998). While both sides withdrew their warplanes shortly after that, the incident demonstrated how quickly an escalation on the island could lead to a direct conflict between the Greek and Turkish armed forces. 

The crisis came to an end in late 1998. That same year saw another incident that demonstrated how Turkey’s threat of military force compelled rivals to make serious concessions. In October 1998, Ankara threatened to attack Syria over its continued support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It amassed armor and 10,000 troops on the Syrian border. Turkey had launched enormous operations, often consisting of up to 30,000 troops, into Iraqi Kurdistan against the PKK in that region the previous year, demonstrating its readiness to take military action against that group beyond its frontiers (Paul Iddon, “In 1998, Turkey and Syria Narrowly Avoided War“, War Is Boring, December 17, 2018). Eager to avoid war with his far more powerful northern neighbor, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad exiled PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan who was captured in Kenya the following year and cracked down on the group’s activities in Syria. Nicosia undoubtedly observed that incident and took note.  

One of three sites on Cyprus, where the components of the S-300 should be stationed: two for the missile systems and one for the 64N6E EW and battle management radar (34°56’39.26″N 32°51’49.19″E; 34°57’47.46″N 32°22’34.23″E; 33°56’18.09″N 32°51’40.93″E). Finally, no S-300s were ever deployed to Cyprus (Source: Sean O’connor, “IMINT & Analysis: The Cypriot Missile Crisis“, IMINT & Analysis, May 1, 2008).

By December 1998, Greek Cyprus reached a compromise with Greece. The missiles were not deployed to Cyprus, but instead, in a face-saving compromise for Nicosia, were sent to the Greek island of Crete in the Aegean Sea. While this defused the Cypriot S-300 Crisis, Turkey still opposed the Crete deployment and made arguments against it that ironically resembled the same arguments and warnings the United States and the NATO alliance made against Turkey’s recent purchase of S-400s.

The Crete deployment and aftermath

Turkey claimed the stationing of the S-300s on Crete relocated the threat of conflict from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Aegean Sea. In December 1998, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem insisted that Greece’s stationing of S-300s on Crete constituted a severe security threat. Deploying the S-300 missiles on the island, he said, would require Russian technicians, which he claimed would effectively mean that Greece would be threatening NATO member Turkey with Russia’s assistance. There were more general fears that any presence of Russian technicians on the island could see the NATO bases there coming under Moscow’s surveillance.

One senior NATO diplomat also pointed out that the Russian missiles could threaten Greek warplanes in addition to Turkish ones given their lack of NATO standard “Identification Friend or Foe” (IFF) systems. “One of the things you build into a system like this is the ability to distinguish between good guys and bad guys,” the diplomat said. “The Russians don’t have this in their software because we haven’t given them our codes. [The Greeks] have to go to the Americans for help, one presumes, if they don’t want the missiles to lock on to their own planes.” Another senior Western diplomat also warned that the missiles could inadvertently spark a Greek-Turkish clash stating that: “It’s absolutely possible for Turkish warplanes to fly within range of the missiles during routine flights in international airspace, for the missiles to lock onto them and for the Turkish planes to respond.”  (Amberin Zaman, “Greek Missile Plan Risk Clash with Turkey, Experts Say“, The Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1999).

Fears, and the prospect of yet another crisis with Turkey, likely convinced Athens to store the missiles on Crete instead and not test-fire them for 14 years. However, after test-firing them during the 2013 White Eagle military exercise, Israel has reportedly since tested its warplanes against the S-300, likely gauging its air forces’ capabilities against the system, which Iran also possesses (Dan Williams, Karolina Tagaris, “Israel trained against Russian-made air defense systems in Greece: sources“, Reuters, December 4, 2015). 

Interoperability issues and the more general irresponsibility of a NATO member fielding advanced Russian air defense missiles were central to the United States’ opposition to Turkey’s purchase of S-400s, which Ankara ordered in 2017 and began taking delivery of in 2019. The acquisition resulted in Turkey’s suspension from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program over United States fears that having both systems operate in the same military could enable Russia to glean important intelligence on the fifth-generation jet fighter’s classified stealth characteristics. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dismissed these claims and charged NATO with hypocrisy for overlooking Greece’s continued possession of the S-300s on Crete. “Greece, which is also a NATO member, has been using S-300 for years, no one says anything,” he charged (“S-400 agreement with Russia ‘a done deal,’ Erdogan says“, Daily Sabah, July 26, 2017). 

In another ironic development, Russia reportedly installed an IFF system up to NATO standards in the Turkish S-400s, potentially enabling Ankara to integrate the Russian missiles with other systems in its military (Joseph Trevithick, “Russia Built A NATO Spec Identification Friend or Foe System For Turkey’s S-400 Batteries“, The War Zone, December 9, 2019). 

Today, Cyprus finds itself in a new series of tensions with Turkey. Ankara has been drilling for gas in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and also, in November, reached a controversial maritime deal with Libya, that seeks to establish an EEZ between Turkey’s southern shores and the northeastern Libyan coast (Luke Baker, Tuvan Gumrukcu, Michele Kambas, “Turkey-Libya maritime deal rattles East Mediterranean“, Reuters, December 25, 2019). France is supporting Cyprus in its present dispute with Turkey and its navy’s flagship, the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, did a five-day port-call in the port of Limassol in February (Bouli Hadjioannou, “Charles de Gaulle Aircraft Carrier Docks at Limassol Port“, in-cyprus, February 21, 2020). In early February, Cyprus also signed a $262 million deal with the European arms manufacturer MBDA for additional French short-range portable Mistral surface-to-air missiles and Exocet anti-ship missiles. This arms deal also envisions France helping the island nation modernize its existing air defense system (Ed Adamczyk, “Cyprus buys missiles, partners with France for exercises to thwart Turkey“, UPI, February 17, 2020). 

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