Zelensky and a Black Sea Brouhaha

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.

The location of the Kerch Strait

The location of the Kerch Strait

In April 2019, Ukrainians elected television personality Volodymyr Zelensky as their new President by a substantial margin (“Comedian Wins Ukrainian Presidency“, BBC News, April 22, 2019). With his lack of foreign and security policy experience, many observers have raised questions as to how Russia might seek to test Zelensky’s mettle. An early challenge has come in the form of a decree, signed by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin days after the Ukrainian presidential election, allowing residents of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk to obtain Russian citizenship. However, more alarmingly, the first year or so of the Zelensky presidency might be occupied more so by Russia’s efforts to cement its control over the Kerch Strait, which provides access between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, while countering the NATO presence in the Black Sea.

In early April, NATO organized a large-scale exercise – known as Sea Shield 2019 – in the Black Sea, incorporating naval vessels from Bulgaria, Canada, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, and Turkey. This has prompted some consternation from Russian policymakers and defence planners, who see the NATO presence as a potential threat to Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea. Ukraine’s capacity to project power itself in the Black Sea has been constrained, ever since Russia seized most of the vessels in the Ukrainian Navy during the Crimean annexation in 2014. When the Ukrainian Navy have sought to transit the Kerch Strait in order to reach the Ukrainian port of Mariupol in November 2018, Russia has intervened and seized three of these vessels. A NATO presence in the Black Sea places an unwelcome check on such aggression.

The Russian test of Zelensky might not come in such a dramatic form as a military standoff in the Kerch Strait, however. Specifically, Russian policymakers might employ “lawfare” by seeking revisions to the Montreux Convention, a 1936 agreement that grants Turkey control over the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits but also regulates the transit of naval warships through these bodies of water. According to the Convention, no one country could put more than nine naval vessels displacing more than 15,000 tons into the Black Sea, no group of non-littoral states could deploy to the Black Sea naval vessels weighing more than 45,000 tons, and no vessel from a non-littoral state could remain in the Black Sea for more than 21 days. Some Russian defence planners have written openly of the value in revising the Montreux Convention so that the length of stay for non-littoral states would be reduced, preventing NATO from maintaining a long-term naval presence in the Black Sea.

This would largely rely on Russian diplomacy with Turkey, as Turkish policymakers have been thus far resistant toward any proposed revision of the Montreux Convention. But moving the Turkish position on this issue might not be so difficult to achieve, given the recent breakthroughs in Russian-Turkish relations: Turkey has committed to purchase the S-400 missile defence system from Russia over NATO compatible systems, and now Turkey is considering purchasing the Sukhoi Su-57 air superiority fighter from Russia rather than continue to participate in the Lockheed Martin F-35 program (see also Paul Iddon, “How Turkey could be undermining its opportunities to field fifth-generation aircraft“, offiziere.ch, May 9, 2017). Were Turkey to be persuaded to support revisions to the Montreux Convention, the Ukrainian Navy would become substantially isolated in the Black Sea. Exercises like Sea Shield 2019 would become difficult or even impossible to implement, and it is doubtful that a combined Ukrainian-Romanian-Bulgarian fleet would alone be able to combat a determined attack by the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet. As such, Zelensky would do well to prioritize the relationship with Turkey early in his presidency and prepare arguments as to why the current language of the Montreux Convention should be preserved. That might well lead to a Russian withdrawal from the Montreux Convention at a later date, but this would come at the cost of Turkish goodwill and would cast Russia as the clear aggressor against Ukraine and other Black Sea states in international public opinion.

The Ukrainian command ship Donbass is seen moored as workers build new terminal at the Port of Mariupol on the Azov Sea, eastern Ukraine on December 2, 2018. Tensions between Ukraine and Russia spiked on November 25, 2018 when Russian forces opened fire on and seized three Ukranian navy vessels off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea, detaining the 24 crew members. It was the first open military confrontation between the rivals since 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and pro-Russian separatists in the east entered into conflict with Ukrainian forces, a war that has since killed around 10,000 people. (Photo: Genya Savilov).

The Ukrainian command ship Donbass is seen moored as workers build new terminal at the Port of Mariupol on the Azov Sea, eastern Ukraine on December 2, 2018. Tensions between Ukraine and Russia spiked on November 25, 2018 when Russian forces opened fire on and seized three Ukranian navy vessels off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea, detaining the 24 crew members. It was the first open military confrontation between the rivals since 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and pro-Russian separatists in the east entered into conflict with Ukrainian forces, a war that has since killed around 10,000 people. (Photo: Genya Savilov).

In the longer term, especially in the event of a Russian withdrawal from the Montreux Convention, Ukrainian defence planners will need to give some thought toward countering Russia’s emerging anti-access/area denial (A2AD) doctrine. In recent years, the Russian Navy’s Caspian Fleet has used small diesel-electric submarines to launch Kalibir cruise missiles against targets in Syria. The deployment of similar forces to the Black Sea, along with the development of sensors at crucial points like the Kerch Strait, would allow Russia dominance over the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian Navy’s current fleet lacks any vessels with dedicated anti-submarine warfare (AWS) capabilities, which demonstrates just how much work lies ahead for Zelensky and his new government.

Posted in English, Paul Iddon, Politics in General, Sea Powers, Security Policy, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Peace has meant for Deforestation in Colombia

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He researches the intersection of Islam, culture, and politics in Africa and Asia.

The conclusion of a five-decade armed conflict between the Colombian military and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November 2016 represented a critical step toward ending the conflict in Colombia (see also here: Michael Martelle, “Colombian Defense After FARC“, offiziere.ch, May 24, 2017). In the regions that have achieved peace, Colombians have gained countless opportunities.

Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, the FARC is nowadays a political party in Colombia. In May 2019, its leader Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londono, speaks during a press conference in Bogota.” width=”620″ height=”413″ class=”size-full wp-image-36094″ /> Under the name Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, the FARC is nowadays a political party in Colombia. In May 2019, its leader Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londono, speaks during a press conference in Bogota.

The resultant stability in these regions has empowered the petroleum industry, which fuels much of the Colombian economy. As neighbors from Brazil to Venezuela have struggled to move past political stalemates, Colombia is reaping the benefits of the peace process. Even so, the almost end of Colombia’s decades-long civil war has harmed the South American country in one respect: deforestation has increased across the country in the time since the 2016 demilitarization of the FARC.

By opening the doors to further economic development in a former war zone, the conclusion of a political settlement between the Colombian government and FARC has reintroduced the wood industry to forests that used to double as battlegrounds. Colombia’s half-century of political violence had the benign side effect of preventing the private sector from exploiting the country’s old-growth forests, a promise of security that components of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil and Peru never enjoyed.

The end of the conflict allowed illegal logging to spread throughout Colombia as criminals once afraid of coming between FARC and the Colombian military moved to take advantage of the opening provided by a peace treaty. In 2016, the region of the country affected by deforestation grew to 178,597 hectares, an increase of 44 percent from 2015, when combat slowed, but FARC remained active.

“Almost three-quarters of the country’s municipalities reportedly lost more than one hectare of virgin forest, primarily due to coca cultivation, large-scale agriculture, road infrastructure projects, and illegal mining,” observed Colombia Reports in 2017. “The rapid increase in deforestation goes against promises made by the national government at the 2015 Paris climate change summit, where it promised to reduce deforestation in the Amazon region to zero. Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom jointly vowed to support Colombia’s promised effort with one hundred million dollars.”

In a pattern that resembles Colombia’s experience, Laos, Myanmar, and other countries with histories of conflict have wrestled with explosions in deforestation after peace processes enabled the wood industry to enter forests no longer isolated by ethnic conflict and political violence. The excitement of peace has distracted Colombian politicians from confronting a plethora of environmental issues.

“Colombia faced one of the most dramatic increases in tree cover loss of any country, with a 46 percent rise compared to 2016, and more than double the rate of loss from 2001–2015,” noted the World Resources Institute in 2018. “Almost half of the increase happened in just three regions on the border of the Amazon biome — Meta, Guaviare, and Caquetá — with new hotspots of loss advancing into previously untouched areas. The rapid increase in tree cover loss happened as peace came to the country.”

Despite the connection between deforestation and peace in Colombia, observers must refrain from viewing the conflict there as a boon for the natural environment. In fact, FARC even participated in illegal logging on a smaller scale — as did many other paramilitaries, including militias supporting the Colombian government’s anti-FARC campaigns. Conflict, like peace, complicated environmental degradation.

“Colombia’s conflict has had several negative impacts on the environment,” reflected the United Nations Environmental Program after Colombia and FARC’s political settlement. “In the last decades different armed groups and criminal gangs gained control over large parts of the territory, where they exploited natural resources or taxed extraction to finance their operations. As a consequence, environmental destruction from unregulated extraction of minerals and other natural resources, illicit crops, deforestation and the unregulated use of hazardous chemicals like mercury has taken place.”

Grazing land previously covered in tropical forest in Caqueta Department, southern Colombia.

Grazing land previously covered in tropical forest in Caqueta Department, southern Colombia.

Now that FARC has refocused its energy on politics and the Colombian government no longer needs to expend quite as many of its resources on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, environmental protection must become a priority for Colombians across the political spectrum. Colombia suffers from not only deforestation but also air pollution, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. The UN Development Program has also described the country as “at high risk from climate change impacts”.

“Colombia has enjoyed impressive economic growth in recent years, but it remains one of the world’s most unequal countries,” the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said of Colombia in a 2014 environmental impact assessment. “Its rich biodiversity and ecosystems are coming under significant pressure from extractive industries, livestock grazing, road traffic and urbanisation. Internal armed conflict has undermined the rule of law, exacerbated many environmental pressures, and restricted access to protected areas and the management of natural resources.”

A comprehensive environmental policy would represent the most effective solution to Colombia’s challenges. The Colombian government can look to well-resourced environmental organizations such as the Amazon Conservation Team, Friends of the Earth, and the Nature Conservancy for assistance. One of the Colombian government’s closest allies, the United States, has instructed its intelligence agencies and military to prepare for climate change. They too could help Colombia prepare for global warming.

“The water, coasts and mountains of Colombia directly benefit 80 percent of the population—and are critical to protecting against climate impacts,” observed the American environmental organization Conservation International. “Colombia is one of the countries most vulnerable to these impacts, due to its large coastal, marine, and mountain ecosystems that provide direct benefits to its population.”

Despite the peace deal and the disarmament of the FARC, the Colombian government does not have control over all areas, even for lack of infrastructure. In 2018, this included an estimated 1,000 - 2,000 FARC dissidents who oppose disarmament.

Despite the peace deal and the disarmament of the FARC, the Colombian government does not have control over all areas, even for lack of infrastructure. In 2018, this included an estimated 1,000 – 2,000 FARC dissidents who oppose disarmament.

Countries such as Iraq and Sudan show how climate change can exacerbate political violence, and South Sudan offers a startling example of how conflict can accelerate the effects of global warming. For its part, Colombia demonstrates that peace can have unintended consequences for the natural environment. If Colombian politicians succeed in stopping deforestation by arranging a thorough environmental policy, their country can become a model for others on the cusp of peace, such as Afghanistan, which has its history of deforestation as well as many other environmental issues tied to conflict.

The peace process has given Colombians the opportunity to pool their political resources and put them toward ending deforestation and supporting the environmental movement. Only then can Colombia begin to ready itself for the effects of global warming, the newest threat to a country that escaped its latest conflict only a few years ago. This considerable responsibility falls to Colombian politicians.

Posted in Austin Michael Bodetti, Colombia, English, Organised Crime, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rückblick: Krieg in der Ostukraine 2014/15 – Direktes Eingreifen Russlands im Spätsommer 2014 (Teil 2/4)

von Dr. Phil. Fritz Kälin, Militärhistoriker, Stab MND. Dieser Artikel wurde zuvor auf dem Blog der OG Panzer veröffentlicht — ich danke dem Autor und der OG Panzer für die Erlaubnis einer Zweitveröffentlichung.

Diese Artikelserie schildert den Kriegsverlauf in der Ostukraine mit Fokus auf die intensivsten Kampfhandlungen der Jahre 2014 und 2015. Als sich abzeichnete, dass die aufmarschierten russischen Truppen keine direkte Invasion in die Ukraine lancieren würden, wagte sich die ukrainische Armee (zusammen mit Truppen des Innenministeriums sowie diversen Freiwilligenformationen) an die Rückeroberung der von Separatisten kontrollierten Donbassgebiete. Moskau erhöhte daraufhin seinen Einsatz substantiell.

Separatisten in einem Vorort von Donezk, Januar 2015 (Foto: Alexander Ermochenko).

Separatisten in einem Vorort von Donezk, Januar 2015 (Foto: Alexander Ermochenko).

Juli 2014, Beginn der Artillerieüberfälle aus Russland
Im Laufe des Juli/August 2014 hatte die vom ukrainischen Innenministerium geführte “Antiterror-Operation” (ATO) weite Gebietsteile und grössere Städte wie Slowjansk und Mariupol wieder unter Kontrolle der Regierung gebracht. Trotz Zufuhr von Waffen und Militärpersonal aus Russland gerieten die Separatisten in arge Bedrängnis. Ausserdem kontrollierten die ukrainischen Kräfte immer mehr Grenzgebiete zu Russland. Die von den Separatisten ausgerufenen Volksrepubliken Donezk und Luhansk drohten voneinander sowie vom russischen Territorium abgeschnitten zu werden. Dies hätte sie in eine militärisch aussichtslose Lage versetzt.

Auch beim Beschiessen des Feindes gilt: Wichtiger als aufwendige Präzisionsmunition, wird das indirekte Massenfeuer von Artillerie und Raketen. Jenes sei “die massivste Bedrohung für Landstreitkräfte”. — Björn Müller, “Wie die Bundeswehr den Landkrieg der Zukunft gewinnen will“, Pivot Area, 22.09.2017.

Über den ukrainischen Truppen im Grenzgebiet schwebten aber bereits Vorboten einer tödlichen Bedrohung: Drohnen als fliegendes Auge für eine Serie von Artillerie-Feuerüberfällen, in denen die russische Armee ab dem 9. Juli von eigenem Territorium aus die ukrainischen Einheiten im Grenzraum dezimierte. Nach ukrainischen Angaben kam es bis zum 5. September 2014 zu über 120 solcher Angriffe (Bellingcat Investigation Team, “Bellingcat Report – Origin of Artillery Attacks on Ukrainian Military Positions in Eastern Ukraine Between 14 July 2014 and 8 August 2014“, Bellingcat, 17.02.2015). Pro Artillerieschlag sollen bis zu 2’000 Schuss eingesetzt worden sein.

Dr. Phillip A. Karber unterstreicht bei seinen Vorträgen, dass Russland Artilleriestreumunition einsetze, welche viele westliche Länder (z.B. die Schweiz und jüngst sogar die USA) aus ihren Arsenalen entfernt haben (Phillip A. Karber, “‘Lessons Learned’ from the Russo-Ukrainian War“, The Potomac Foundation, 08.07.2015, S. 16ff). Die Bundeswehr warnt in einem Thesenpapier vor einseitigem Verlass auf teure Präzisionsmunition. Auch in der Schweiz sollte bei der Diskussion um die Erneuerung der Artillerie trotz (berechtigtem) Fokus auf Präzisionsfeuer im Kampf im überbauten Gelände diese Trendumkehr auf dem modernen Schlachtfeld nicht ignoriert werden. In den Worten von Karber: “We like to talk about precision. They [the Russians] talk about precision targeting / massed fires”. In der Ostukraine folgten diesen Worten Taten.

Separatisten feuern im Februar 2015 mehrere BM-21 Grad Raketen auf Ziele in Debaltseve ab.

Ein besonders verheerender Artillerieschlag erfolgte am 11. Juli frühmorgens bei Zelenopillya. Dort campierten ukrainische Grenzschützer und Elemente von vier Brigaden in höchstens zehn Kilometern Entfernung zur russischen Grenze auf offenem Feld. Aus Russland abgegebene Salven von 122mm-Raketenwerfern BM-21 vernichtete innert drei Minuten den Fahrzeugpark von etwa zwei mechanisierten Bataillonen, tötete etwa 30 ukrainische Soldaten und verletzte gegen 100 (teils schwer).

Die ukrainischen Truppen im südöstlichsten Grenzraum (vier Brigaden) gerieten zwischen den “Amboss” der Separatistengebiete und den “Hammer” russischer Artillerie. Der in Teil 1 behandelte “Raid” der 95. Luftlandebrigade anfangs August war deshalb primär eine Rettungsaktion für ihre unglücklichen Kameraden entlang dieser Grenzzone.

Rückzug der ukrainischen Truppen am 29. August 2014.

Rückzug der ukrainischen Truppen am 29. August 2014.

24. August 2014: Invasion am ukrainischen Unabhängigkeitstag und die Falle von Ilovaisk
Offensichtlich rechnete die Ukraine nicht damit, dass Russland seinen direkten Einsatz noch weiter erhöhen würde. Die ATO wurde fortgesetzt, vor allem von Norden auf Luhansk und von Südwesten in den Rücken von Donezk. Eine durch Freiwilligenbataillone gebildete Spitzen der Ukrainer kämpfte sich bis Ilovaisk voran. Von dort bedrohten sie die Verbindungslinie der Grossstadt Donezk zu den übrigen Separatistengebieten. Der 24. August, der Unabhängigkeitstag der Ukraine, begann unter diesen Umständen zunächst vielversprechend. Doch im Laufe des Tages verdichteten sich die Meldungen, dass nicht mehr nur Gerät und Bedienmannschaften aus Russland, sondern reguläre russische Truppenverbände direkt in die Kämpfe eingriffen. Das Zuwarten des Kremls auf dieses symbolträchtige Datum beinhaltete eine naheliegende politische Botschaft.

The Russians wanted to show us that our independence doesn’t mean anything to them. — Generalleutnant Ruslan Khomchak, Kommandant der ukrainischen Streitkräfte in Ilovaisk, zitiert in Lucian Kim, “The Battle of Ilovaisk: Details of a Massacre Inside Rebel-Held Eastern Ukraine“, Newsweek, 04.11.2014.

Die russische Armee hatte 44 Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) in Eingreifreichweite zur Ukraine zusammengezogen. Mit bis zu 4’000 regulären Soldaten in sechs BTGs drangen sie am 23./24. August aus dem Grenzraum östlich / südöstlich des Donbass in die Ukraine ein; den durch die Artillerieschläge bereits geschwächten ukrainischen Verbänden in die Flanke (Karber, “‘Lessons Learned’ from the Russo-Ukrainian War” S. 37f). Das ukrainische Spitzenelement in und um Ilovaisk (gemäss ukrainischen Angaben rund 1’400 Mann) wurden eingekesselt. Der Versuch, zu deren Entsetzung zwei Kampfgruppen zusammenzufassen, wurde durch Artilleriefeuer und direkte Angriffe russischer Truppen zunichtegemacht. Der russische Präsident Vladimir Putin appellierte am 29. August öffentlich an die Separatisten, den eingeschlossenen ukrainischen Kräften einen “humanitären (Rückzugs-)Korridor” zu öffnen. Ein entsprechendes Übereinkommen zwischen den Konfliktparteien kam zustande, erwies sich später jedoch für die Ukrainer als tödliche Falle: Ihre beiden Kolonnen aus rund 60 vollbesetzten, grösstenteils ungepanzerten Fahrzeugen erlitten Verluste in der Höhe von mehreren hundert Toten, Verletzten und Gefangen. Die Niederlage von Ilovaisk unterminierte das Vertrauen der ukrainischen Freiwilligenformationen in Staat und Armee. Sie fühlten sich in Ilovaisk von den Streitkräften im Stich gelassen, wenn nicht sogar durch die Regierung in Kiew mutwillig “verheizt” (Alec Luhn, “Anatomy of a Bloodbath“, Foreign Policy, 06.09.2014).

Zusammensetzung der regulären Kampftruppen
Bei den russischen BTGs handelte es sich vereinfacht ausgedrückt um die materiellen und personellen “Filetstücke” grösserer Verbände, deren restlichen Teile auf den Heimstützpunkten verblieben. Die 44 BTGs nahe der urkainischen Grenze wurden aus 66 Divisionen oder Brigaden aus ganz Russland zusammengezogen (Gene Thorp, “Russia’s Buildup on the Ukraine Border“, Washington Post, 2 May 2014). Sie waren nicht ad hoc zusammenwürfelt, sondern haben in dieser Form als Einheit trainiert. Eine BTG enthält alle für den Kampf der verbundenen Waffen notwendigen Komponenten – einschliesslich Luftabwehr – ist jedoch schwach an Infanterie und Logistik. Dies deckt sich mit den Fronterfahrungen, dass solche BTGs nur wenige Tage lang ein intensives Feuer aufrechterhalten konnten und dann weitgehend “verstummten”, bis sie wieder frisch auf munitioniert wurden. Ob der Nachschub von den “humanitären Hilfskonvois” geliefert wurde, wie von Karber behauptet, kann nicht definitiv beantwortet werden (Phillip Karber, “The Russian Military Forum: Russia’s Hybrid War Campaign: Implications for Ukraine and Beyond“, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 10.03.2015, ab 38′).

Französische Freiwillige, Anhänger pro-russischer Rebellen, stehen am 28. August 2014 auf dem Lenin-Platz in der Stadt Donezk vor zerstörtem ukrainischen Militärgerät (Foto: Mstislav Chernov).

Französische Freiwillige, Anhänger pro-russischer Rebellen, stehen am 28. August 2014 auf dem Lenin-Platz in der Stadt Donezk vor zerstörtem ukrainischen Militärgerät (Foto: Mstislav Chernov).

Der Kreml setzte ausserhalb Russlands möglichst Berufs- und Vertragssoldaten ein – nicht nur wegen ihres besseren Ausbildungsstandes, sondern weil ihre Verluste innenpolitisch weniger Probleme verursachen als tote Wehrpflichtige. Die Zahl rekrutierter Freiwilliger reichte für die Bedienmannschaften des komplexeren Geräts sowie die mechanisierten und luftmobilen Formationen. Für die Alimentierung der Masse an Infanterie brauchte es aber weiterhin Wehrpflichtige. Im Donbass wurde die Infanterie mehrheitlich durch “Freiwillige” gestellt (laut Karber sind darunter Söldner, lokale Einheimische, Tschetschenen und sogar eigens dafür freigelassene Gefängnisinsassen; Karber, “The Russian Military Forum”, ab 40′). Die russisch-separatistischen Truppen im Donbass waren deshalb gemessen am Raum knapp an Manpower.

Truppenmangel bestand ebenso auf ukrainischer Seite. Die Ereignisse auf der Krim und im Donbass belegen den heute anerkannten Bedarf nach rasch kriegsbereiten Kräften. Dadurch, dass der 2014/15 zeitweise intensiv geführte Krieg seither als eingefrorener Konflikt fortschwelt, müssen beide Seite neue Antworten auf die alte Frage der Durchhaltefähigkeit ihrer Armee und Gesellschaft finden. Kein ganzes Jahr nach ihrer Abschaffung wurde in der Ukraine die Wehrpflicht im Mai 2014 wieder eingeführt. Seit Ende Oktober 2016 werden Wehrpflichtige nicht mehr für Einsätze an der umkämpften Front eingesetzt. Andererseits sind (wie auch in Polen und den baltischen Staaten) Vorbereitungen im Gang, um im Falle einer grossen Invasion den Widerstand gegen die Besatzung aufrechtzuerhalten.

While there is some coordination between the regular army and volunteer battalions, it varies with the battalion, ranging from barely satisfactory to poor. — Ivo H Daalder et al., “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do“, February 2015, S. 12

Ukrainische Freiwilligenbataillone – Problematische Patrioten
In der Stunde der Gefahr meldeten sich mehr zur Verteidigung ihrer Nation, als der ukrainische Staat auf die Schnelle auszubilden und auszurüsten imstande war. Oligarchen sprangen in die Lücke und finanzierten eine Reihe sogenannter Freiwilligenbataillone (Robert Beckhusen, “Does the Ukrainian Conflict Represent a New, Privatized Form of Warfare?“, War Is Boring, 17.05.2014). Solange es nur gegen vergleichsweise schwach bewaffnete Separatisten ging, mögen die freiwilligen ad hoc-Einheiten den ausgezehrten Heereskräften eine Entlastung gebracht haben. Trotzdem wäre der militärische Wert bei einer Bildung einer nur schon minimal trainierten und ausgerüsteten Heeresreserve grösser gewesen. Durch die Sicherstellung des staatlichen Gewaltmonopols wäre eine Heeresreserve auch politischer unproblematischer gewesen, denn die rechtsextremen Exponenten unter den Freiwilligen liefern der Gegenseite ein höchst willkommenes Feindbild. Ausserdem könnten diese Gruppierungen für eine sich nach Westen orientierende Ukraine langfristig eine erhebliche Hypothek darstellen. Ein Bericht der Think Tanks Brookings Institution, Chicago Council on Global Affairs und Atlantic Council vom Februar 2015 fordert, dass die Freiwilligenformationen der Armee oder der Nationalgarde unterstellt werden (Daalder et al., S. 6). Die Situation erinnert an die junge Weimarer Republik, die zur Wiederherstellung der Ordnung im Innern auf extrem nationalistisch gesinnte “Freikorps” zurückgreifen musste.

Einen nicht minder befremdlichen Eindruck vermittelt das Sammelsurium “nicht regulär-militärischer Kämpfergruppen”, die in den selbsternannten Volksrepubliken im Donbass über weite Gebietsteile herrschen. Der Mangel an regulären Soldaten für die infanteristischen Kampfbedürfnisse führte auf beiden Seiten dazu, dass auf Freiwillige mit nicht selten fragwürdigen Motiven zurückgegriffen wurde. Eine ähnliche Arbeitsteilung zwischen schweren Waffen einer regulären Armee und “irregulärer Infanterie” findet in Syrien derzeit zwischen der türkischen Armee und verbündeten syrischen Milizen statt.

Ukrainian soldiers are briefed by a commander before fighting commences against militants, close to Ilovaysk town, near of Donetsk in August 10, 2014 (Photo: Roman Pilipey).

Ukrainian soldiers are briefed by a commander before fighting commences against militants, close to Ilovaysk town, near of Donetsk in August 10, 2014 (Photo: Roman Pilipey).

Die Hafenstadt Mariupol
Zusätzlich zur Frontlücke, welche durch die Verluste bei Ilovaisk aufgerissen wurde, griffen Separatisten und russische Truppen entlang des südlichsten Grenzabschnitt an. Die naheliegende Absicht könnte gewesen sein, entlang des Asowschen Meeres eine direkte Landverbindung zur Krim einzunehmen, denn bereits im Mai/Juni hatten die Separatisten und ukrainischen Sicherheitskräfte hart um diese wichtige Stadt gerungen. Die wenigen ukrainischen Kräfte vor Ort fielen zurück, um das am Meer gelegene Mariupol zu verteidigen, welche jedoch nichts gegen die drohende Umfassung der Stadt ausrichten konnten. Die einzige Reserve der Ukrainer bestand in der 95. Luftlandebrigade, die sich nach ihrem “Raid” in Slowjansk (fast 40 km nördlich von Mariupol) neu sammelte.

Verstärkt durch ein unterwegs “angedocktes” Bataillon der 97. Brigade stiess die 95. zuerst von Nord nach Süd quer durch das von Gegner eingenommene (oder zumindest durchstossene) Gebiet bis Mariupol. Von dort ging es weiter in eine nördlich gelegene Ortschaft mit einer wichtigen Brücke in West-Ost-Richtung. Dort positionierte die Brigade ihre Artillerie und teilte sich in zwei Teile zu je zwei Bataillonen auf. Diese bewegten sich aggressiv im Rücken des Gegners in nördlicher bzw. südlicher Richtung. Brigadekommandant Mychajlo Sabrodskyi begründete diese höchst riskante Kräfteaufteilung so (zitiert nach Karber): “If I operate as a Brigade I am too predictable. I had to confuse. I had to take the initiative away from them. I had to have them so confused they didn’t know what was happening.” (Modern War Institute, “Dr. Phillip Karber Explains Russian Operations in Ukraine“, West Point, 13.04.2017). Seine an zentraler Lage zurückgelassene Artillerie konnte beide Teile der Brigade weiter unterstützen. Offenbar lohnte sich das Risiko, denn die Front stabilisierte sich daraufhin östlich von Mariupol. Zur – gemessen am damaligen Gesamtzustand der Ukrainischen Armee – beachtlichen Leistung dieser 95. Luftlandebrigade sei ergänzt, dass dieser Verband vor dem Krieg an der Seite westlicher Streitkräfte an Friedensmissionen und am Irakkrieg teilgenommen hatte.

Es gibt gegensätzliche Deutung des Kampfes um Mariupol. Laut Karber rettete die 95. Luftlandebrigade die Stadt. Gemäss dem Journalisten und Russland-Kennert Lucian Kim führte fortbestehende Gefahr für Mariupol zur ukrainischen Zustimmung zum ersten Minsk-Abkommen am 5. September 2014 (Lucian Kim, “The Battle of Ilovaisk: Details of a Massacre Inside Rebel-Held Eastern Ukraine“, Newsweek, 04.11.2014). Dass die Frontlinie seither östlich und nicht westlich von Mariupol verläuft (zufällig entlang der “Schildkröten Stellung” der deutschen Heeresgruppe Süd im Frühherbst 1943), scheint doch eher der Verdienst der ukrainischen Truppen als der internationalen Diplomatie zu sein.

Kiew stimmte dem ersten Minsker-Abkommen in einer Position der Schwäche zu. Die direkt einmarschierten russischen Kampfverbände hatten die Kräfteverhältnisse entlang der gesamten Front umgekehrt. Trotzdem könnte der ukrainische Widerstand einige Pläne Moskaus durchkreuzt haben. Denn auch nach dem Zustandekommen dieses “Waffenstillstandes” kam es immer wieder zu schweren Kämpfen. Diese sind Gegenstand des nächsten Teils.

Ein ukrainischer Kämpfer steht neben einem zerstörten UAF BM-21 Grad Raketennwerfer nach der Schlacht von Ilovaisk.

Ein ukrainischer Kämpfer steht neben einem zerstörten UAF BM-21 Grad Raketennwerfer nach der Schlacht von Ilovaisk.

Posted in Armed Forces, Fritz Kälin, International, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Press and Internet censorship in Turkey

Article 26 paragraph 2 of the Turkish constitution guarantees freedom of the press and expression. At the same time, it legitimizes a regulatory system for “publications by radio, television, cinema or similar means”. Finally, in paragraph 2, the above mentioned rights of freedom are again undermined by a large number of arbitrarily applicable exemptions. At the same time, a vague formulation about the protection of “the reputation or rights of others and their private or family life” opens the door to restrict freedom of the press and expression. Nevertheless, the government often uses the argument “support of a terrorist organization” as justification for any repression. Accordingly, many journalists find themselves behind bars: at the end of December 2018, there were 68 in jail – no other country (followed by China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) imprisoned so many journalists. On average, jailed Turkish journalists spend more than a year in detention awaiting trial, and after that, imposing long prison sentences is the norm. In some cases, even sentences of life without parole have been handed down (“Turkey: Massive Purge“, Reporters Without Borders, 2018).

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

While Turkey has never been a model for guaranteeing freedom and human rights, the situation has worsened in stages after 2006, 2013, and 2016. The EU has criticized Turkey from early on, and the relationship is often strained not the least because of apparent shortcomings in freedom and human rights. Despite an association agreement in 1963 and a customs union at the end of 1995, the EU renounced accession negotiations in 1997 (to the annoyance of Turkey in contrast to the Eastern European countries and Cyprus), which in the short term led to a break in talks between the EU and Turkey. Quasi for reconciliation, at the end of 1999, Turkey was categorized as an “applicant country” by the European Council. At the same time, the European Council stated that the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria would be a prerequisite for the opening of accession negotiations or entry to the EU. The Copenhagen criteria include “institutional stability, democratic and constitutional order, respect for human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”.

In fact, at the beginning of the 2000s, Turkey was trying to meet these criteria. For example, a comprehensive reform of Turkish civil law was undertaken, the death penalty was abolished even in times of war, torture was forbidden, the freedom of assembly and demonstration expanded, and the rights of the Kurds were strengthened. Ironically, today’s Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) were behind many of these reforms. Nevertheless, the new standards were often paper tigers, because, in practice, it proved lacking. For instance, in its report last year, Amnesty International stated that torture is still occurring among people in police custody and that public authorities do not effectively prevent it (“Turkey 2017/2018“, Amnesty International).

Amnesty International activists ride a boat on the Spree, Berlin. They demand the release of Taner Kılıç, founder and president of the Turkish section of Amnesty International. Kılıç was detained by Turkish authorities on 6 June 2017 and charged with use of the smartphone program ByLock and membership of a terrorist organization. One of Turkey's supreme courts declared in September 2017 that having ByLock installed on the phone of an accused person was sufficient to establish that person's membership of the Gülen movement. He remained in detention until 15 August 2018.

Amnesty International activists ride a boat on the Spree, Berlin. They demand the release of Taner Kılıç, founder and president of the Turkish section of Amnesty International. Kılıç was detained by Turkish authorities on 6 June 2017 and charged with use of the smartphone program ByLock and membership of a terrorist organization. One of Turkey’s supreme courts declared in September 2017 that having ByLock installed on the phone of an accused person was sufficient to establish that person’s membership of the Gülen movement. He remained in detention until 15 August 2018.

The limited successes of the reform efforts were short-lived. As early as 2006, an intensification of the anti-terrorist legislation led to an increase in journalist arrests. There were also restrictions on the use of the Internet. In May 2007, Law No. 5651 on the regulation and the fight against crime on the Internet came into force. This law was initially promoted to combat sexual exploitation and abuse of children, prostitution, and gambling, but over the years it has increasingly been used as a basis to block all kinds of content the government finds disagreeable. Based on this law, in addition to blocking websites, access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Skype is repeatedly temporarily blocked, the connection speed is throttled, or access to the Internet is completely blocked (Burcu Selin Yılmaz, Hümeyra Doğru, and Volkan Bahçeci, “What If You Cannot Access the Internet in the Surveillance Society? Individuals’ Perceptions Related to The Internet Censorship and Surveillance in Turkey“, Journal of Media Critiques, vol. 3, no. 11, 10 September 2017, p. 74f). This law has been used as the basis for completely blocking all content on Wikipedia since the end of April 2017. However, the Internet is not only partially blocked: since November 2011, there is also a nationwide filter system. Finally, for the first time, in September 2012, an Internet user was sentenced to one year in prison for insulting the Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Facebook. The increasing censorship of Internet content is also reflected in the evaluation by Freedom House: since 2009, this rating has steadily worsened and has been rated as “not free” since 2016.

A further sustained restriction of freedom of the press and expression – both in the classical sense as well as on social media – took place in 2013. This was due to several events, which, together with social media and conventional reporting had a negative impact on the then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his political environment, and the AKP. Starting in 2012 and particularly in 2013, several hundred Turkish officers were jailed for past or suspected coups or attempted coups. Overlapping, the conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) flared up from October 2011 to March 2013 (and later again from 2015). However, the most influential were the demonstrations starting in late May 2013 in Istanbul against a planned construction project on the grounds of Gezi Park. These demonstrations increasingly became a nationwide, anti-government protest and culminated in December 2013 with the publication of massive allegations of corruption against the AKP government.

The Turkish media have embarrassed themselves. While the whole world was broadcasting from Taksim Square, Turkish television stations were showing cooking shows. It is now very clear that we do not have press freedom in Turkey. — Koray Çalışkan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, cited in Constanze Letsch, “Social Media and Opposition to Blame for Protests, Says Turkish PM“, The Guardian, 3 June 2013.

Because of the lack of coverage by pro-government media, social media played a decisive role in organizing the demonstrations and protests for the Occupy Gezi movement (Erkan Saka, “Social Media in Turkey as a Space for Political Battles: AKTrolls and Other Politically Motivated Trolling“, Middle East Critique, vol. 27, no. 2, 3 April 2018, p. 161). As a result, access to social media and anti-government content on the Internet has been severely restricted. When incriminating recordings of the corruption scandal were published on YouTube and Twitter, the government reacted by temporarily blocking these services entirely. Erdoğan described social media as “the worst menace to society” and the government arrested Turkish Twitter users for the first time. Despite Erdoğan’s negative attitude towards social media, in the fall of 2013 the AKP announced that it wanted to build a 6,000-strong team of young, tech-savvy party members, which would silence government-critical voices on social media (like a Troll army; Erkan Saka, “The AK Party’s Social Media Strategy: Controlling the Uncontrollable“, Turkish Review, vol. 4, no. 4, 7 August 2014, p. 418–23).

2011 protests against internet censorship in Turkey.

2011 protests against internet censorship in Turkey.

The press in Turkey can hardly be called free. Almost all media companies are owned by large holding companies that have connections to political parties. Around a dozen journalists, who had reported positively about the demonstrators during the protests in 2013, were fired. After facing massive amounts of pressure in their media companies in 2014, hundreds of journalists who had previously investigated corruption cases quit their jobs. Law No. 5651, which was strengthened by the AKP in February 2014, expanded state monitoring capabilities. Internet service providers (including Internet cafés and free Wi-Fi providers) were required to keep their users’ activity data up to two years instead of the original one year. This data had to be provided at the request of the authorities without requiring any judicial order (Bilge Yesil and Efe Kerem Sozeri, “Online Surveillance in Turkey: Legislation, Technology and Citizen Involvement“, Surveillance & Society, vol. 15, no. 3/4, 9 August 2017, p. 545). However, parts of the strengthening, such as the two-year retention period, were reversed in December 2016 by a Turkish Constitutional Court ruling.

Starting in 2014, charges against journalists and students for insulting government officials increased. From the beginning of Erdoğan’s presidency at the end of August 2014 until the failed coup attempt in mid-July 2016, 1,845 people were charged with insulting the Turkish president – a criminal offense punishable by up to four years in jail under Turkish law. As a gesture of national solidarity Erdoğan dropped almost all the charges after the failed coup attempt (except for pro-Kurdish parliament members and the German satirist Jan Böhmermann). Since then, however, there have been new charges.

A Turkish soldier who took part in the attempted coup is kicked and beaten by the crowd (Photo: Selcuk Samiloglu).

A Turkish soldier who took part in the attempted coup is kicked and beaten by the crowd (Photo: Selcuk Samiloglu).

After the failed coup attempt in mid-July 2016, repression has once again noticeably increased. To date, more than 96,000 people (including 319 journalists) have been arrested, and around half a million have been investigated (including more than 2,000 young people under the age of 18), more than 150,000 people have been fired (including more than 6,000 academics and nearly 4,500 judges). In addition, 189 media outlets were closed during this period (“Monitoring Human Rights Abuses in Turkey’s Post-Coup Crackdown“, Turkey Purge, 19 April 2019). As of November 2016, 114,000 websites were blocked for political or social reasons. These include news agencies as well as online forums reporting on LGBTI issues, ethnic minorities (especially pro-Kurdish content), and social unrest or show anti-Muslim content.

Page views of the Turkish Wikipedia https://tr.wikipedia.org/ in 2017.

Page views of the Turkish Wikipedia https://tr.wikipedia.org/ in 2017.

Since December 2016, a large number of VPN providers and Tor entry nodes have been blocked. Public censorship can be bypassed with a reasonably stable connection if the Tor client uses OBFS4 bridges. However, this approach only works if web pages are blocked; there is no solution if the overall connection to the Internet is throttled or the connection is blocked entirely (Yılmaz, Doğru, and Bahçeci, p. 78f). Offiziere.ch is aware of a case in which a relatively reliable, permanent connection was made with 15 bridges. In TorBox version 0.2.3, the possibility to use bridges is experimentally implemented, but not yet in a user-friendly way (there is a well-documented configuration file for savvy users). A more user-friendly implementation will be provided with the pre-version 0.2.4 – planned for the middle of this year. Currently, the following VPN providers are available in Turkey: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, AstrillVPN, PrivateVPN, and CyberGhost. Like Tor with OBFS4, they also rely on obfuscated protocols. In any case, the VPN user is well advised to additionally use Tor over VPN so that the VPN provider can only recognize an encrypted, target-anonymized data stream.

Also, in mid-March 2018 ProtonMail was blocked. ProtonMail is an email provider located in Switzerland, which specializes in the free or cost-effective offering of user-friendly encrypted email communication. According to information from ProtonMail customer service the service was accessible again after a few days for users located in Turkey, but based on the information available to offiziere.ch there were at least repeated temporary restrictions. Particularly piquant is that the blocking was carried out by Vodafone Turkey, which is part of the British Vodafone Group. Once again there are companies in democratic states supporting censorship in authoritarian states.

Posted in English, Politics in General, Turkey | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Additional EA-03 Arrive at Yishuntun

New satellite imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe shows that China has increased the deployment of Guizhou Aviation Industry Group (GAIG) EA-03 Xianglong high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to Yishuntun airbase in Jilin province. The platform, identified by its unique box wing design and “V” shaped vertical stabilizers, is often considered China’s answer to the U.S.-built RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Imagery acquired in January showed up to six Xianglong at the airbase parked on the main operations apron. The numbers climbed from the two previously reported last year. Yishuntun is one of the few airbases currently known to host the UAV outside of Anshun — where new airframes are manufactured — and Malan, one of the PLAAF’s main UAV air bases.

Previous deployments include a rotation on Hainan Island near the South China Sea at Lingshui as well as a high altitude deployment at Tibet’s Shigatse. Imagery showed that the two airframes at Lingshui departed sometime in Q2 2018 while the three in Tibet relocated earlier this year near the same time China’s H-6 arrived post Balakot.

Additional commercial imagery acquired more recently of Yishuntun showed new construction activity around the parking aprons. Up to seven aircraft shelter footprints appear to be under construction along with several other support structures. The activity suggests that Yishuntun may become a more permanent deployment location for the platform. Given increasing concerns recently over the stability of the DPRK, China may feel a sustained ISR mission is required.

According to Jane’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Targets, the platform has a cruising speed around 405 kt (750 km/h), an operating altitude of 18,000 m, and a range of 3,780 n miles (7,000 km). Yishuntun is approximately 200 miles (about 320 km) from the DPRK border.

Bottom Line
China has increased the ISR requirement on the border with the DPRK adding at least four Xianglong since 2018.

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How Turkey could be undermining its opportunities to field fifth-generation aircraft

by Paul Iddon

Turkey’s apparent inability to prevent leaks of sensitive American and British military and technical information to third parties may be one factor that results in it losing an opportunity to field not one, but two types of fifth-generation warplanes in the near future.

USAF Air Force F-35s conducting their first ever elephant walk in November 2018.

U.S. Air Force F-35s conducting their first ever elephant walk in November 2018.

On April 1, the United States halted the delivery of training equipment Turkey will need for the 100 fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II jets it has ordered. Two unnamed sources told Reuters that the next shipment of such equipment had been cancelled.

Washington is withholding these items in order to show Ankara that it is serious about cancelling the delivery if it goes ahead and takes delivery of highly sophisticated S-400 air defense systems it is purchasing from Russia.

U.S. Air Force Colonel Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, summed up Washington’s position very succinctly when he stated that: “Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability have been suspended.”

On May 3, Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan warned Turkey that the U.S. would remove Turkey from the F-35 production program – which would see the manufacture of parts of the aircraft’s cockpit displays, fuselage and landing gear moved elsewhere – if it buys the S-400.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan visits IDEF 2019, 14th International Defense Industry Fair, in Istanbul, Turkey April 30, 2019.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan visits IDEF 2019, 14th International Defense Industry Fair, in Istanbul, Turkey April 30, 2019.

Speaking at the International Defense Industry Fair in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that Turkey is an integral and irreplaceable member of the F-35 production program, something that is not reflected by reality according to U.S. sources familiar with the program.

Also on May 3, three House Armed Service Committee lawmakers put forward a bill to ban the sale of F-35s to Turkey if it buys the S-400. One of its sponsors, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, said that “the bill sends a strong and important message to Turkey – proceeding with the S-400 is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” However, Ankara does not seem to heed these warnings: Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay reaffirmed Turkey’s stance on the issue two days later, saying that U.S. concerns are not legitimate and that Ankara would push ahead with its Russian purchase.

The U.S. opposes Turkish acquisition of S-400s, invariably pointing to that system’s non-compatibility with other NATO systems. Washington’s main concerns, however, is that Turkish S-400s could end up relaying sensitive information about the F-35 to Russia if they are both operated together, information such as radar signature and profiles for Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF). Additionally, if Russian technicians are sent to Turkey in order to train the Turks how to operate the system, they could get an opportunity to see how capable the S-400 is at detecting and tracking the stealthy warplane.

Another fear is that if Turkey manages to directly integrate the S-400 with its other air defense systems and related networks also linked to the F-35 this could compromise even more information about the aircraft to Russia (for example data stored in the cloud-based multinational Automatic Logistics Information System ALIS). This would be a major intelligence breach since the F-35 is set to become a preeminent front-line fighter in the U.S. Air Force as well as other air forces in the NATO alliance.

Turkey may have tried to address these concerns. According to the pro-governmental Daily Sabah, Turkey rejected a Russian offer to send military technicians to help to field the system. It instead asked Moscow to train its personnel on how to “run the system on their own without Russians setting foot on Turkish soil”. Turkish officials also seem to have told a concerned American delegation in January that the Turkish S-400s “will be based on domestic software”. Turkey claims it does not have any plans to link its S-400s with either its own networks or those of NATO’s.

S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems of the Russian Southern Military District's missile regiment on combat duty in Sevastopol in January 2018 (Photo: Sergei Malgavko).

S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems of the Russian Southern Military District’s missile regiment on combat duty in Sevastopol in January 2018 (Photo: Sergei Malgavko).

In mid-February, Turkey rejected an alternative last-minute U.S. offer to buy U.S. MIM-104 Patriot air defense missiles instead, indicating that a showdown on this increasingly contentious issue could transpire in the coming months. Turkey is currently expecting Russia to begin delivering the missiles in July.

“Ankara’s reassurances have failed to assuage the concerns about sensitive information on the F-35 ending up in Russian hands,” noted Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in a recent piece for War on the Rocks. “Indeed, it seems increasingly likely that Washington will block the transfer of the jets to Turkey […] undermining a key element of the modern Turkish-American alliance: defence industrial cooperation.”

This, incidentally, is not the only case whereby concerns over military information being compromised are posing obstacles to Turkey acquiring fifth-generation aircraft.

According to the Financial Times, the British company Rolls-Royce “has scaled back” its bid to join the Turkish Kale group in a contract to make engines for Turkey’s planned fifth generation air superiority fighter jet, the all-weather Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) TF-X.

TAI artist rendition of the TF-X.

TAI artist rendition of the TF-X.

Rolls-Royce is concerned about its intellectual property being compromised as a result of the involvement of a subsidiary to the Turkish arms manufacturer BMC. Qatar is a major shareholder of BMC, and military ties between Ankara and Doha have been continuously expanding in recent years. Rolls-Royce opposes the inclusion of BMC in the project since it fears its intellectual property, which it has agreed to share with Turkey to enable Ankara to manufacture indigenous jet engines, could be either passed on or leaked to a third party.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has eagerly sought even more exorbitant arms deals in the Middle East in the wake of the Brexit referendum of 2016. She visited Turkey in January 2017 and negotiated a £100 million deal to help Turkey build the TF-X. One official in the UK at the time summed this up as a “gateway” agreement which could lead to successive arms deals worth billions of pounds in the years to come.

Turkey’s inability to allay Rolls-Royces’ concerns might mean the contract will instead go to another non-British firm. A Russian firm, for example, expressed interest about a year ago to participate in the project. Not having the help of a British company will not necessarily prevent Turkey from developing the TF-X, but it could potentially delay the project significantly. That would be a setback for Ankara since it doubtlessly wants the aircraft, or at least its prototype, operational by 2023 for the centennial of the Turkish republic’s foundation.

Additionally, Rolls-Royce not getting the contract could ultimately result in Turkey developing a national jet fighter with inferior engines. Ankara currently plans to power the TF-X’s upcoming prototype and its initial batch with General Electric F110 engines. “If the Turks go for the GE option, they will have to compromise on the stealth capabilities of the TF-X,” said one defense specialist cited by Defense News.

Even though both these cases are quite distinct, they share one common theme. That being Turkey’s failure to reassure either the United States or Britain that it remains a trustworthy partner with whom to share military technology. This might prove detrimental for Turkey’s largely American and European-equipped military in the long run.

Posted in English, Intelligence, Paul Iddon, Proliferation, Security Policy, Technology, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chinese Tanks – Part 1: Operational History & Indigenous Development between 1931 and 1990

by Sébastien Roblin. He holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States.

According to the Military Balance 2019, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may possess the largest active-duty tank fleet on the planet, with about 5,800 tanks in operational service. However, Chinese tanks remain relatively little known in the Western world. Therefore, in a two-part series, we will first briefly survey the operational history of mainland Chinese tank forces, and the development of indigenous Chinese tanks through 1990. Then, in a second part, we will look at the organization and role of contemporary PLA tank units, and review Chinese tanks currently in PLA Ground Force, Navy and Air Force service, as well as models exported abroad.

Chinese Type 96A MBT in early 2019.

Chinese Type 96A MBT in early 2019.

Tank Warfare in a Changing China
Before the 1930s, Chinese warlords in a strife-torn China acquired a handful of armored cars and few dozen French Renault FT-17 tanks. Following a false-flag attack on a Japanese rail line near Mukden in September 1931, the FT-17s were seized by Japanese forces. Japanese light and medium tanks subsequently spearheaded offensives into Chinese territory, occupying Manchuria and providing fire support for an assault on the Great Wall of China in 1933.

20 Vickers Carden Loyd Light tanks (M1931) bought by the Chinese National Revolutionary Army.

20 Vickers Carden Loyd Light tanks (M1931) bought by the Chinese National Revolutionary Army.

In response, the Nationalist Kuomintang government imported armored fighting vehicles from virtually every major military power: machine-gun armed Panzer I Ausf As from Germany, CV-33/35 tankettes from Italy, Cardel-Lloyd tankettes and beefier Vickers 6-ton Mark E tanks from the U.K. as well as T-26s and BA-family armored cars from the Soviet Union.

Initial Chinese attempts to deploy the Vickers and Panzer I tanks to blunt Japanese attacks on Shanghai and Nanjing respectively ended in costly defeats in 1937. In 1939 the Nationalist Chinese 200th Mechanized Division, equipped with Soviet-origin T-26s and BA armored cars, engaged and defeated a Japanese cavalry-mechanized force in the Battle of Lanfeng. The tank elements were later detached into the independent 1st Armored Regiment (3 battalions of 36 tanks each), which decisively stemmed a larger-scale Japanese offensive in the Battle of Kunlun Pass. Meanwhile, in October 1939 Japanese and Soviet mechanized armies engaged in a swirling Battles of Khalkin Gol, Mongolia. The decisive Soviet victory there had an enormous impact, leading Tokyo not to support the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and later facilitating the continued independence of the state of Mongolia from China.

All numbers in the text are based on Will Kerrs, "Chinese Tanks and Armored Cars (1925-1950)", Tank Encyclopedia, 24 April 2017.

Click on the image to enlarge. All numbers in the text are based on Will Kerrs, “Chinese Tanks and Armored Cars (1925-1950)“, Tank Encyclopedia, 24 April 2017.

During World War II, the Nationalist’s 1st Regiment served on the Burma campaign in 1942 and received dozens of M3 Stuart light- and M4 Sherman medium-tanks through the Lend-Lease program. When Japan surrendered in 1945, Chinese forces captured nearly 300 Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light and Type 97 tanks, and Type 94 tankettes. To support the Nationalist’s war against the Communists, the U.S. also transferred LVT(A)-4 amphibious vehicles, more Shermans, and M10 and M18 tank destroyers.

The "Gongchen tank" displayed at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution.

The “Gongchen tank” displayed at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution.

The People’s Republic Gets Its First Tanks
The PLA got its first tank in December 1945, the “Gongchen” (“Hero”), when the PLA captured Japanese Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto tanks in Shenyang. Additional Type 97s were eventually formed into the “Northeast Tank Regiment”, supplemented by captured Nationalist tanks. However, the story is part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) folklore, and its fine details seem somewhat fantastical.

As the Communist chased the Kuomintang from the Mainland, ROC tanks saw action opposing PLA amphibious landings on Nationalist-held islands. At the decisive Battle of Guningtou, a handful of M5 Stuart light tanks fortuitously patrolling the beach of Kinmen Island crushed a PLA amphibious landing — an incident which may explain the PLA’s commitment to fielding amphibious tanks ever since.

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, between 1950 and 1955 the PLA purchased over 2,800 tanks from the Soviet Union which were formed into 67 armored regiments. These include 1,800 T-34-85 tanks, 700 SU-76 self-propelled guns, various heavy self-propelled guns, and IS-2 tanks.

The PLA T-34-equipped 1st and 2nd Tank Regiments were deployed in the Korean War. Unlike the breakthrough role initially assumed by North Korean T-34s, PLA tanks were primarily used in small numbers for infantry support and rarely clashed with U.N. tanks. Generally, T-34-85s performed well against U.S. M24 light tanks and the M4 Easy 8 Sherman medium tanks but were outclassed by the heavier M26 Pershing.

Some of the PRC's T-34-85s in the country's 1950 National Day parade.

Some of the PRC’s T-34-85s in the country’s 1950 National Day parade.

The First Chinese-Built Tanks
In 1956, the Soviet Union began transferring technology for its then-excellent T-54A tank as part of a Sino-Soviet friendship agreement, which led two years later to the Type 59 tank (or WZ-120), produced in the Factory #617 of Inner-Mongolia First Machine Group Company Limited in Baotou.

Other first-generation Chinese tanks that followed include the Type 63 amphibious tank (derived from the Soviet PT-76) and the Type 62 light tank, a much lighter version of the Type 59. Both were armed with 85-millimeter guns. Chinese factories also refitted some T-34-85s as the Type 58 tank.

However, during the 1960s relations between China and the Soviet Union turned sharply for the worse, cutting off further technology transfers. As the Cultural Revolution brought industrial innovation to a near standstill, the PLA fell technologically far behind the now threatening mechanized armies of the Soviets. The PLA’s War doctrine advocated leveraging China’s population and geographic mass by drawing invaders into China’s interior and bogging them down in protracted guerrilla and hit-and-run warfare — a strategy implying little confidence that the PLA could contain invaders at the borders.

China’s next breakthrough came in March 1969 following violent border skirmishes with Soviet border forces over Zhenbao Island. The PLA recovered a knocked-out Soviet T-62 tank. Chinese engineers studied its Luna infrared searchlight and Nuclear/Biological/Chemical protection. Following a lengthy development process, in 1982 China began manufacturing the Type 69, its first genuinely indigenous tank design. This blended the familiar Type 59 hull with new features including rubber side skirts, an infrared spotlight and a dual-axis stabilized, rifled 100-millimeter gun.

Disappointed with the results, the PLA ordered only a few hundred Type 69s in the early 1980s for service in northwestern China, though thousands more were exported and saw extensive combat. One of the few (briefly) successful Iraqi armor engagements in 2003 involved Type 69 tanks ambushing U.S. logistical units.

Captured Iraqi Type 69-IIA during Operation Desert Storm.

Captured Iraqi Type 69-IIA during Operation Desert Storm.

Rude Awakening
In February 1979, China launched a month-long “punitive” invasion of northern Vietnam — apparently attempting to disrupt the Vietnamese ousting of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The PLA disposed of 700 tanks in seven armored regiments for the operation: one of Type 59 tanks, four of Type 62 light tanks, one of Type 63 amphibious tanks, and one of T-34-85 tanks held in reserve (it was not committed).

However, the PLA mustered only around 100 Type 63 APCs, so Chinese infantry rode on top of the tanks, tied on by ropes. A unit of Type 70 multiple rocket launchers (a Type 63 APC equipped with nineteen 130-millimeter rocket tubes) was the only armored artillery present.

Type 63 amphibious tank in the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution.

Type 63 amphibious tank in the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution.

The PLA tanks managed to negotiate the mountainous terrain to eradicate fortified Vietnamese outposts. In the sole armor clash of the war, PLA Type 62 tanks encountered Vietnamese T-34-85s and claimed to have knocked out fourteen of them for no loss, though Vietnamese accounts admit the loss of only two. However, PLA armor and tank-riding infantry suffered heavy losses to Vietnamese RPG- and ATGM-teams. Figures vary, but some sources claim 90% of PLA tanks were damaged, including 50 utterly destroyed, rendering armored units ineffective after eleven days (for more details see Sebastien Roblin, “In 1979, China and Vietnam Went to War (And Changed History Forever)“, The National Interest, 2 March 2019). Afterward, the PLA began beefing up its tanks with appliqué armor.

Political and Technological Upheaval
In the 1980s, China’s domestic and foreign policy saw another revolution. Deng Xiaoping’s reformist China benefited from warming relations with the West. The U.S. firm Cadillac even offered an upgraded “Jaguar” model of the Type 59 tank during this era.

A notable fruit of these late-Cold War military ties was the transfer of German diesel engines, European fire-control computers, and the British 105-millimeter L7 rifled gun, acquired from Austria. This 52-caliber weapon, built as the Type 83 in China, can penetrate up to 600-millimeter RHA-equivalent using modern munitions, including depleted uranium shells.

The Jaguar main battle tank was jointly developed by China and US.

The Jaguar main battle tank was jointly developed by China and US.

Chinese engineers incorporated the new Western technologies into a new “Second Generation” of domestic tanks, starting with the Type 80 prototype, which featured a new hull-design with six road wheels. These technologies were retrofitted to Type 59, 62, and 63 tanks, as well as a new model of the Type 69, called the Type 79.

The Type 80 spawned the Type 85 “Storm” export tank and Type 88 production model for PLA service. The Type 85-II entered service with Pakistan (as the Al-Zarrar) and Sudan (Al-Bashir). The PLA only procured around 500 Type 88s, with another 230 going to Myanmar.

At some point in the 1980s, China also acquired a Soviet T-72 tank, possibly via Iran or Iraq. Based on it, Chinese engineer replaced their older “lumpy” cast-steel turrets with a new hexagonal turret mounting a smoothbore 125-millimeter gun similar to the T-72’s 2A46 cannon. This was incorporated into the Type 85-IIM and Type 90 models, which have evolved into the present-day Type 96 and Type 99 tanks respectively.

Similarly, a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle was obtained, likely from Egypt, and reverse-engineered into the Type 86 IFV, which entered service in 1992.

A Chinese Type 99 Main Battle Tank on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution as part of the "Our troops towards the sky" exhibition (Photo: Max Smith).

A Chinese Type 99 Main Battle Tank on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution as part of the “Our troops towards the sky” exhibition (Photo: Max Smith).

No history of Chinese tanks is complete without referring to their role in crushing the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Students from universities in Beijing first gathered on April 15, 1989, after the death of Hu Yaobang, a deposed reformist general secretary. In the following six weeks the protesters’ ranks swelled, spreading to other Chinese cities as they began demanding democratizing reforms.

A massive deployment of PLA infantry starting in May proved incapable of breaking up the protesters in Tiananmen Square. Indeed, some PLA units hesitated to use force and even clashed with hardline troops.

On June 3, the Politburo of the CCP authorized army units, including the Type 59-II tanks and Type 63 APCs of the 1st and 6th Tank Divisions, to use “whatever means necessary” to clear the square.

Starting on June 4, 1989, advancing Type 59s opened fire with machine guns and in some cases charged into the protesters, crushing some to death. Despite episodes of defiance such as the celebrated “Tank Man“, and incidents in which PLA tankers even dismounted while civilians set their armored vehicles ablaze, the square was cleared by that evenings, and protesters dispersed by June 7.

At the end of the pro-democracy movement in China, a group of Chinese Army tanks blocks an overpass on Changan Avenue leading to Tiananmen Square where the Communist Government carried out its final crackdown on protestors just a few hours earlier (Photo: Peter Charlesworth).

At the end of the pro-democracy movement in China, a group of Chinese Army tanks blocks an overpass on Changan Avenue leading to Tiananmen Square where the Communist Government carried out its final crackdown on protestors just a few hours earlier (Photo: Peter Charlesworth).

According to the Chinese Red Cross (but later denied), least 2,700 Chinese were killed in the bloodbath, though a total up to four times that high is possible. Six PLA soldiers were slain by protesters during the crackdown. A genuine challenge to CCP rule had been eradicated through brutal mechanized force.

The Tiananmen Square massacre brought an abrupt end to the Western military partnership with China. However, by then China’s technological and industrial base had dramatically matured — the 1991 Gulf War would soon convince the PLA it had much further to go.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, History, International, Sébastien Roblin | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A long way: Russian military reform – Part 2

by Patrick Truffer (originally published in German). He has been working in the Swiss Armed Forces for more than 15 years, holds a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zurich), and a master’s degree in international relations from the Free University of Berlin.

The purpose of this article is to investigate the factors driving Russian military reform, how the capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces have changed in the last ten years, and how they could change through 2030, based on the latest state armaments program. The first part was about the consolidation phase after the end of the Cold War; the inadequacies that became apparent during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, and finally the Serdyukov reform. This part deals with the progressive improvement of the Russian armed forces as a consequence of the military reform, which became evident in the wars in Ukraine and Syria and the major exercises of the last two years.

The wars in Ukraine and Syria

Following the removal of Russian-supported Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in late February 2014, masked soldiers without insignia, but equipped with the green Ratnik infantry combat system appeared in Crimea (Maria Martens, “Russian Military Modernization“, Science and Technology Committee, NATO Parliamentary Assembly, 11.10.2015, p. 9). The Ratnik infantry combat system is made of breathable reinforced-fiber fabric of polymeric compounds, which protects against open fire and minor splinters/ballistic shrapnel. The body armor vest, reinforced by ceramic and hybrid inserts, is effective against small arms, including armor-piercing bullets preventing penetration and trauma. Additionally, the soldiers were equipped with modern communication means, which could be based on Glonass. In a third edition, Ratnik aims to increase the connectivity and combat efficiency of all ground forces after 2020 (“Ratnik Russian Future Soldier Modern Infantry Combat Gear System“, Army Recognition, 31.03.2018).

These “little green men” most likely belonged to the 45th Guards Independent Spetsnaz Brigade and the 3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade. In addition to their modern equipment, the soldiers stood out for their self-confident, disciplined, though determined demeanor. In April 2014, similarly equipped and disciplined soldiers appeared in eastern Ukraine (Hannes Adomeit, “Die Lehren der russischen Generäle“, NZZ, 18.07.2014).

In contrast to the annexation of Crimea and interference in the war in Ukraine, the military operation in Syria took place from late summer 2015 at the request of the Syrian government. Since then, Syria has been an important training, testing, and demonstration ground. A total of around 250 systems, including 160 new or modernized weapon systems, are said to have been tested, with around 1,200 civilians from 57 Russian companies and research and development organizations accompanying the deployed units in order to draw lessons for further development (Julian Cooper, “The Russian State Armament Programme, 2018-2027“, NATO Defense College, Mai 2018, p. 3; “Chapter Five: Russia and Eurasia”, The Military Balance, vol. 118, 2018, p. 170).

The military operation in Syria certainly required certain funds, however the main part of the funding came from the Defence Ministry, their resources. Some 33 billion rubles were earmarked in the Ministry’s 2015 budget for military exercises. We simply retargeted these funds to support our group in Syria, and there is hardly a better way of training and perfecting combat skills than under real combat conditions. In this sense, it is better to use motor operating time and combat stock in combat than at a testing range. You, professionals, know this better than anyone else. — Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to 700 officers of all branches in March 2016 (Vladimir Putin, “Meeting with Russian Armed Forces Service Personnel“, President of Russia, 17.03.2016).

The units deployed in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria have made significant progress in terms of leadership, training, equipment and operational readiness. Electronic warfare and logistics capabilities have also improved (“Chapter Five: Russia and Eurasia”, The Military Balance, vol. 115, 2015, p. 159). With the operation in Syria, the Russian forces have shown that they have sufficient sea and air transport resources, respectively that they can procure them quickly in unconventional ways (renting and reflagging Turkish merchant ships as Russian naval vessels), to carry out a minor operation outside its actual sphere of influence and to be able to maintain logistical support. The Russian forces are able to jointly cooperate (in particular between the Air Force and the Navy), as well as with foreign partners. Russian warplanes, for example, have given Syrian and Iranian ground forces close air support in offensive operations. This represents significant progress compared with the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Furthermore, the new Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bomber and in February 2018, two pre-production models of the Sukhoi Su-57 including a deployment of a Kh-59MK2 cruise missile were tested (“Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jets successfully tested in Syria“, TASS, 01.03.2018).

The first precision weapons were already tested with the Kalibr in 2011 with the Navy and the Kh-38 in 2012 with the Air Force, but operationally, these new weapons systems have only been deployed by both branches in Syria. For example, in October 2015, 26 Kalibr cruise missiles launched from three Buyan M-class corvettes and one Gepard-class frigate in the Caspian Sea destroyed 11 targets in Syria (Dmitry Gorenburg, “What Russia’s Military Operation in Syria can tell us about Advances in its Capabilities“, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memos, no. 124, 18.03.2016, p. 2ff; “Russian missiles ‘hit IS in Syria from Caspian’“, BBC News, 07.10.2015). The following December, another Kalibr was launched from a submarine in the Mediterranean. To date, the Russian armed forces fired 90 Kalibr cruise missiles in the Syrian war. In so doing, Russia is primarily pursuing political goals, because there was no tactical need for it. It is a show of force in the direction of NATO, the USA, and neighboring states. The message is clear: Russia is back as a superpower! Production and financial means, however, limit the use of precision weapons: around 80% of the dropped munitions in Syria included old, unguided “dumb” bombs (Gorenburg, “What Russia’s Military Operation in Syria can tell us about Advances in its Capabilities“, p. 3f).

The annexation of Crimea and interference in the war in Ukraine has negative consequences for the Russian defense industry, which will influence the modernization of Russian forces in the future. The sanctions made it impossible to acquire Western arms and related technology transfer. The Navy particularly felt this as the purchase of the two Mistral ships were reversed by France and ship propulsion systems from Germany and Ukraine were held back. The missing ship propulsion systems had delayed the planned construction of new destroyers, corvettes, and frigates. Ukraine was also an essential supplier of aircraft and helicopter engines, and the state-owned Yuzhmash company ensured the maintenance of the currently 46 SS-18 Satan ICBMs. Starting this year, the SS-18 Satan will gradually be replaced by the new, entirely Russian-made RS-28 Sarmat.

Another problem is the sanctions on dual-use goods, including in particular electronic components in satellite technology and drone development. Russia tries to cushion the effects of Western sanctions as much as possible by import substitution from Belarus and Asian countries. However, this is not possible in all areas in the medium term, incurs additional costs, and leads to delays in the construction of modern weapon systems (Julian Cooper, “Russia’s State Armament Programme to 2020: A Quantitative Assessment of Implementation 2011-2015“, Swedish Defence Research, 2016, p. 37ff).

Status Quo

According to the latest Russian military doctrine issued at the end of 2014, the expansion of NATO military infrastructure within the Eastern European Member States, possible NATO membership of Ukraine and Georgia, and political and military pressure within them, pose a threat to Russia. From a Russian point of view, the US and its allies are trying to use hybrid warfare to prevent Russia’s influence over its neighbors. They are willing to spread chaos in the Russian neighboring states, in order to form a basis for intervention in these states and to be able to install a pro-Western government (Dmitry Gorenburg, “Russia’s Strategic Calculus: Threat Perceptions and Military Doctrine“, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memos, no. 448, 11.11.2016, p. 2).

Since 1999, the perceptions of threats have run like a thread through the Zapad exercises, with the emphasis of the scenarios being on conventional operations in regional conflicts with possible escalation with a conventionally equal opponent (Stephen J. Cimbala and Roger N. McDermott, “Putin and the Nuclear Dimension to Russian Strategy“, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 29, no. 4, October 2016, p. 536).

Soldiers who bore no insignia and refused to say whether they were Russians or Ukrainians patrolled the Simferopol International Airport after a pro-Russian crowd gathered near Simferopol on February 28, 2014.

Soldiers who bore no insignia and refused to say whether they were Russians or Ukrainians patrolled the Simferopol International Airport after a pro-Russian crowd gathered near Simferopol on February 28, 2014.

After Vostok 2010, in which a fictional conflict with China Russia had foreseen a regionally limited nuclear strike in the end, however, further fictional nuclear strikes in response to a conventionally overpowering opponent were largely dispensed with [1]. This coincides with the availability of precision weapons, which can be equipped with conventional warheads (Roger N. McDermott and Tor Bukkvoll, “Tools of Future Wars – Russia Is Entering the Precision-Strike Regime“, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 31, no. 2, April 2018, p. 192). In other words, the better Russia is conventionally equipped, the less likely it is to use nuclear weapons. The 2013 Zapad, for example, was about defending Belarus against Baltic terrorists, resulting in extensive operations in overbuilt terrain, resulting in a mix of counterinsurgency and conventional operations. Towards the end of the exercise, an enemy amphibious landing on the Baltic coast was defeated by conventional means (Stephen Blank, “What Do the Zapad 2013 Exercises Reveal? (Part One)“, Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, 04.12.2013). However, this does not change the fact that the use of nuclear weapons in the context of an “escalation to de-escalate” is still doctrinal – for example, most recently, this approach was part of the 2017 Russian Navy doctrine (Katarzyna Zysk, “Escalation and Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s Military Strategy“, The RUSI Journal, vol. 163, no. 2, March 2018).

The last Zapad exercise in 2017 was about defending against a hybrid opponent. Three coalition states bordering on Belarus took advantage of the worsening economic situation in Russia and Belarus in order to sow discord between the two states with the use of information operations. The first 48 hours of the exercise were mainly devoted to combating terrorism and containing hybrid warfare on Belarusian territory. It corresponds to the time required by the Russian armed forces in the ideal case for their mobilization. Thereafter, an enemy invasion by the three fictional states was prevented, with their impressive military potential reminiscent of NATO. Finally, the Russian forces in Belarus struck back. On the last day of the exercise, the scenario escalated in the Barents Sea and the Black Sea (Pavel Felgenhauer, “Lukashenka and Russian Officials Part Ways During Zapad 2017“, Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, 22.09.2017). The Northern Fleet also had 20 warships and 5,000 men in action. In addition, the Plesetsk Cosmodrome deployed two RS-24 Yars ICBMs (one from a silo, one from a mobile platform), which engaged targets on the Kamchatka Peninsula, East Asia, 6,000 km away. The use of the RS-24 Yars was a test and at the same time a show of force against the US (Daniel Brown, “Russia just finished the Zapad military exercises that freaked out NATO – Here’s what we know“, Business Insider, 25.09.2017; Alex Gorka, “Russia tests Yars RS-24 ICBM as part of its Nuclear Modernization Effort“, Strategic Culture Foundation, 03.10.2017).

Zapad 2017 demonstrated that Russia is able to defend its territory and that of its allies effectively. With its air defense, Russia is prepared for the initial phase of a military operation, which is characterized by massive firepower from the US and NATO the air forces. The S-400 Triumf already stationed in Kaliningrad and Saint Petersburg, as well as the S-300 systems in Belarus were quickly supplemented by further S-400, S-300, and Pantsir-S1 systems during Zapad 2017. The Baltic Fleet can additionally strengthen air defenses and engage enemy targets in the air, in the water, and on the coast. At the same time, the Russian air force can combat ground targets outside of Russian territory with escorted bombers and/or tactical missiles. During the exercise, an Iskander-M (which can be equipped with a nuclear or a conventional warhead) from the Central Military District was used successfully to destroy a target 480 km away in Kazakhstan. At Zapad 2017, Su-27, Su-35S, Su-30SM, and MiG-31 were used to combat enemy fighter aircraft, Su-34 bombers, Su-24MRs, and tactical levels around 30 different drone systems for reconnaissance and targeting (Michael Kofman, “Zapad Watch – Summary of Day Four“, Russia Military Analysis, 18.09.2017). The C2 capabilities allow units to be deployed all over the territory and along a front that is over 600 km long. During Zapad 2017, ground forces were supported by Mi-35M, Ka-52, Mi-28N and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters (Roger N. McDermott, “Zapad 2017 and the Initial Period of War“, The Jamestown Foundation, 20.09.2017). Logistically, the Russian forces are able to move at least one armored division by rail over long distances and deploy at least one light battalion rapidly by air transport (Michael Kofman, “Zapad Watch – Summary of Day Five“, Russia Military Analysis, 19.09.2017; Sergey Sukhankin, “Zapad-2017: What Did These Military Exercises Reveal?“, ICDS, 24.10.2017).

These findings were confirmed in last year’s Vostok exercise. The main objectives of the exercise consisted of reviewing the armed forces preparedness, the ability to transport units over long-distances union operations using civilian infrastructure, and coordination between ground forces and naval fleets. In addition, the Chinese armed forces took part for the first time in a Russian exercise, which is also to be taken as a political signal to the US. The exercise adopted an entirely new approach: Central Military District units were tasked with invading the Eastern Military District. The necessary units were moved by means of 1,500 freight cars and 50 transport aircraft from the Central Military District to the east – in the case of the 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade up to 4,500 km (Miko Vranic and Samuel Cranny-Evans, “Analysis: ‘Vostok 2018’ a Window on Russia’s Strategic Ambitions“, Jane’s Defence Industry and Markets Intelligence Centre, 2018). At the same time, the Northern Fleet moved to the Pacific, trying to fight the Pacific Fleet. For defense purposes, the Eastern Military District was reinforced with around 3,500 men and 24 helicopters, as well as six fighters from Chinese units and a smaller number of Mongol troops. The actual combat exercises by the air and ground forces were conducted in the Tsugol area in the Transbaikal region near the Russian-Chinese-Mongolian border triangle. Russia used 25,000 military personnel, 7,000 pieces of equipment, and 250 fighter aircraft and helicopters (Michael Kofman, “Vostok 2018 Strategic Maneuvers: Exercise Plan“, Russia Military Analysis, 10.09.2018). In airborne exercises, more than 700 soldiers and 51 BMD-2 airborne tanks were deployed by parachute (Michael Kofman, “Vostok 2018 – Day 3 (September 13)“, Russia Military Analysis, 14.09.2018). Precision ammunition was hardly used during the exercise, which suggests that the Russian forces have limited reserves and are therefore conserving them for use in Syria rather than during exercises (Michael Kofman, “Vostok 2018 Days 5-6 (September 15-16)“, Russia Military Analysis, 17.09.2018).

In 2013, but not during the Zapad exercise, a fictional nuclear attack was simulated on Sweden, with two TU-22M3 Backfire-C bombers, escorted by four Su-27 Flanker, approaching to about 30-40 km off the Swedish island Gotland. However, these are not unusual technical exercises and therefore cannot be overstated (David Cenciotti, “Russian Tu-22M Backfire Bombers Escorted by Su-27 Flankers Simulate Night Attack on Sweden“, The Aviationist, 22.04.2013; Zysk, 2018, p. 9).

In the third part, the possible further development of the Russian armed forces for the period up to the end of 2030 will be discussed, and a conclusion will be drawn.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, History, International, Patrick Truffer, Russia, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Start der Testflüge zur Evaluierung eines neuen Kampfflugzeuges (NKF) für die Schweiz

Gestern, am Donnerstag, 11. April 2019, haben die Testflüge mit dem Airbus Eurofighter Typhoon in Payerne begonnen. Dies stellt den Auftakt für die bis Ende Juni andauernde Flug- und Bodenerprobung der fünf zu evaluierenden Kampfflugzeuge dar (siehe Graphik unten), welche zusammen mit den Mitteln der bodengestützten Luftverteidigung (BODLUV) im Umfang von maximal 8 Milliarden Franken beschafft werden sollen. Was die Kampfflugzeuge angeht möchte der Bundesrat innerhalb dieses Pakets rund dreissig bis vierzig Maschinen anschaffen.

In der Evaluierung stehende Kampfflugzeuge in der Reihenfolge der Erprobungen (Quelle: Anja Lemcke und Eugen U. Fleckenstein, "Mögliche Kampfjets für die Schweiz", NZZ, 11.04.2019, S. 15).

In der Evaluierung stehende Kampfflugzeuge in der Reihenfolge der Erprobungen (Quelle: Anja Lemcke und Eugen U. Fleckenstein, “Mögliche Kampfjets für die Schweiz“, NZZ, 11.04.2019, S. 15).

Bereits vor der Flug- und Bodenerprobung wurden seit Februar in den Herkunftsländern der Flugzeughersteller verschiedenste Tests an den in der Evaluierung stehenden Kampfflugzeugen durchgeführt. Rund 20 Vertreter des Verteidigung, Bevölkerungsschutz und Sport (VBS) haben dabei Abklärungen zum Unterhalt und zur Logistik vorgenommen. Gleichzeitig fanden im Ausland die ersten Erprobungen in den Simulatoren der Hersteller statt. Bei diesen Simulationen wurden Flugeigenschaften erprobt, welche in den realen Flug- und Bodenerprobungen nicht durchgeführt werden können, wie zum Beispiel das Verhindern von Kollisionen sowie komplexe Szenarien mit mehreren Flugzeugen. Gemäss Bernhard Berset, Teilprojektleiter von Armasuisse konnten durch diese Simulationstests die Anzahl der in der Schweiz geflogenen Missionen stark reduziert werden. Eine Erprobung der Kampfflugzeuge in der Schweiz sei aber noch immer unabdingbar. Gehe es doch darum, die Sensoren der heimischen Topografie auszusetzen. Ein Radar funktioniere über dem Meer anders als in den Bergen (Kaj-Gunnar Sievert, “Air2030: Start der Flug- und Bodenerprobungen für ein neues Kampfflugzeug (NKF) in Payerne“, Armasuisse, 08.04.2019).

Landung des Eurofighters von Airbus; gestartet in Warton (GBR) und gelandet in Payerne am 9. April 2019. © VBS/DDPS

Die Erprobungen werden durch Experten der Schweizer Luftwaffe und der Armasuisse in Payerne durchgeführt. Dabei werden die einsitzige Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II und der Saab Gripen E durch Piloten der Hersteller geflogen. Gemäss Berset sei dies jedoch kein Problem, da ohnehin die Aufzeichnungen der Missionen entscheidend seien.

Wir möchten die Bevölkerung über die Grundsatzfrage abstimmen lassen: Wollen Sie noch eine Luftverteidigung, die den Namen verdient, oder nicht? Die Typenentscheidung wollen wir nachher fällen. — Oberst i Gst Peter Merz, Projektleiter bei der Luftwaffe, zitiert in Dominik Meier, “Evaluation der Kampfjets – Das Schaufliegen am Schweizer Himmel ist eröffnet“, Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF), 08.04.2019.

Insgesamt sind pro Flugzeugtyp acht verschiedene Missionen geplant. Bei sieben davon wird es darum gehen, die von der Schweizer Luftwaffe beziehungsweise von der Armasuisse vorgegebenen Aufgabenstellungen im operationellen und technischen Bereich auszuführen. Dabei sind auch Nachtflüge vorgesehen; jedoch keine Waffentests. Nebst diesem herstellerunabhängigen Pflichtprogramm können die Anbieter bei der achten Mission deren Inhalt selbst bestimmen und somit die Stärken des angebotenen Flugzeugs präsentieren. Alle gewonnenen Erkentnisse werden anschliessend in Fachberichte einfliessen, jedoch erst nach dem Vorliegen der zweiten Offerte Mitte 2020 miteinander verglichen. Auf der Basis des so entstandenen Evaluationsberichts wird dann der Bundesrat Ende 2020 den Typenentscheid fällen. Noch vor diesem Typenentscheid soll das Volk abstimmen — eine wichtige Lehre aus dem Gripen-Debakel von 2014. (Michael Surber, “Nun fliegen die Kampfjets in der Schweiz“, NZZ, 09.04.2019, S. 14).

Interessantes Detail am Rande: An der Pressekonferenz vom letzte Montag sagte Botschafter Dr. Christian Catrina, Delegierten für die Erneuerung der Mittel zum Schutz des Luftraums, dass die Hauptlasten der Kosten der Flug- und Bodenerprobung, d.h. der Transfer und Betrieb der Kampfflugzeuge in der Schweiz, die Personal- sowie Materialkosten usw. durch die anbietenden Firmen und Staaten getragen werden. Die Schweiz zahlt insgesammt “nur” zehn Millionen Franken für die Tests, wobei es sich hauptsächlich um die Kosten für das Kerosin handelt.

• • •

Update vom 27.04.2019
Vorgestern ist der zweite Testkandidat in Payerne gelandet: die F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet (Block III) von Boeing. Es handelt es sich im Vergleich zum F/A-18C/D um eine umfassende Neuentwicklung, die um etwa 30 % grösser (30% größerer Rumpf und 25% höhere Flügelfläche) und erheblich leistungsfähiger (35% mehr Trockenschub) ist. Am Ende des unten aufgeführten Videos landet noch ein Tanker basierend auf der McDonnell Douglas DC-10 der Firma Omega Aerial Refueling Services, welche für die US Navy, britische Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force und Royal Australian Air Force kommerzielle Luftbetankungen durchführt.

Landung der F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet von Boeing (geflogen von der US Navy); gestartet in St. Louis (USA) und gelandet in Payerne am 25. April 2019. © VBS/DDPS

• • •

Update vom 02.05.2019
Bundesrätin Viola Amherd will sich für die Beschaffung neuer Kampfflugzeuge und eines neuen Systems zur bodengestützten Luftverteidigung grösserer Reichweite ein umfassendes Bild verschaffen, bevor sie dem Gesamtbundesrat einen Vorschlag für das weitere Vorgehen unterbreitet. Dazu hat sie drei Zusatzberichte in Auftrag gegeben:

  • Eine Zweitmeinung von Claude Nicollier zum Expertenbericht “Luftverteidigung der Zukunft” kommt zum Schluss, dass die Qualität des Expertenberichts aussergewöhnlich hoch sei und der sachliche Inhalt von äusserst professioneller Arbeit zeuge. Deshalb empfiehlt Nicollier gar, den Bericht zur offiziellen Grundlage für die weitere Arbeit des VBS zu erheben. Das würde Diskussionen über alternative Varianten zur Luftverteidigung wie mittels Leichtflugzeugen oder die Beschaffung von Jets aus Russland oder China beenden. Zudem habe er mit Verwunderung zur Kenntnis genommen, dass offensichtlich zahlreiche hohe Offiziere der Armee den Bericht nicht kennen. Er empfiehlt ausserdem die momentan gewählte Variante — den Ersatz der derzeitigen Kampfflugzeugflotte durch rund 40 moderne Kampfflugzeuge und die Erneuerung der Boden-Luft-Verteidigung — beizubehalten. Ausserdem empfielt er den Kampfjet und die Bodenluftverteidigung gesondert zu betrachten und nicht wie unter Bundesrat Guy Parmelin ursprünglich entschieden beide Beschaffungen als Paket anzugehen.
Schweizer Piloten im Cockpit einer Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet (Foto: Valentin Flauraud / EPA).

Schweizer Piloten im Cockpit einer Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet (Foto: Valentin Flauraud / EPA).

  • Die Bedrohungslage wurde ein weiteres Mal VBS-intern unter der Federführung von Pälvi Pulli, Chefin Sicherheitspolitik VBS, überprüft. Ihre Analyse bestätigt, dass es auch künftig eine genügend grosse Anzahl Kampfflugzeuge und bodengestützte Mittel brauche, um den eigenen Luftraum wirksam schützen und verteidigen zu können. Die negativen Entwicklungen der internationalen Sicherheitslage in den letzten zwei Jahren und die zeitlichen Verhältnisse für diese Beschaffungsprojekte würden den Handlungsbedarf gar erhöhen.
  • Kurt Grüter, ehemalige Direktor der Eidgenössischen Finanzkontrolle, erstellte eine Beurteilung der Kompensationsgeschäfte (Offsets) und anerkennt in seinem Bericht die Bemühungen des Bundes, mehr Transparenz in die Offsetgeschäfte zu bringen. Er übt jedoch auch Kritik, dass Offsetgeschäfte gegen das Prinzip des freien Aussenhandels verstosse. Es solle deshalb ausschliesslich und gezielt für die Stärkung der Industriebasis eingesetzt werden, die für die Sicherheit und Verteidigung der Schweiz unerlässlich sei. Eine Kompensation von 100% sei vor diesem Hintergrund und angesichts der Grössenordnung von 6 bis 7 Milliarden Franken kaum zu realisieren. Direkte Offsets in der Grössenordnung von 20% und auf die sicherheitsrelevante Technologie- und Industriebasis ausgerichtete indirekte Offsets von zusätzlichen 40% seien eher machbar.

Nach diesen Zusatzberichten soll der Gesamtbundesrat noch vor dem Sommer darüber entscheidet, in welcher Form er die Beschaffung neuer Kampfflugzeuge und eines neuen Systems zur bodengestützten Luftverteidigung dem Parlament vorgeschlagen wird. Nach den Empfehlungen von Nicollier ist es nicht abwägig, dass die Stimmberechtigten zwar über den Kauf neuer Kampfflugzeuge, nicht aber über die BODLUV abstimmen könnten.

• • •

Update vom 17.05.2019
Heute ist der dritte Testkandidat, die Rafale von Dassault von der Le Tubé Air Base der Französischen Luftstreitkräften in Istres (Frankreich) nach Payerne überführt worden. Die Rafale gilt als leistungsfähiger, aber auch sehr teurer Kampfjet, weshalb er bis dahin nur wenige Interessenten im Ausland gefunden hatte. So hatte sich beispielsweise Belgien Ende Oktober 2018 unter anderem aus Kostengründen gegen die Dassault und für 34 F-35A Lightning II entschieden. Nach langen und intensiven Bemühungen haben 2015 die Luftstreitkräfte Katars und Ägyptens je 24 Rafale in Auftrag gegeben, wobei Katar zusätzlich noch einmal 12 Maschinen nachbeschafft hat (mit einer Option noch einmal 36 Maschinen zu kaufen; Dassault Aviation, “2018 Annual Report“, Mai 2019, S 43). Ausserdem unterzeichneten die Verteidigungsminister Frankreichs und Indiens, Jean-Yves Le Drian und Manohar Parrikar im September 2016 einen Kaufvertrag über für 7,89 Milliarden Euro für 36 Rafale-Mehrzweckkampfflugzeuge.

Landung der Rafale von Dassault; gestartet in Istres (Frankreich) und gelandet in Payerne am 16. Mai 2019. © VBS/DDPS

Der Bundesrat hat vor zwei Tagen beschlossen, dass das VBS bis spätestens Anfang September einen Entwurf eines Planungsbeschlusses zu unterbreiten hat. Dabei wurde – wie bereits bei der Präsentation des Zusatzberichtes anfangs Mai angedeutet – die Beschaffung des neuen Kampfflugzeuges und der bodengestützten Luftverteidigung grösserer Reichweite voneinander separiert. Das heisst, dass die stimmberechtigte Bevölkerung ausschliesslich über die Beschaffung der neuen Kampfflugzeuge abstimmen kann. Der Bundesrat will eine Volksabstimmung über die Beschaffung von neuen Kampfflugzeuge deshalb ermöglichen, weil es sich dabei um ein Vorhaben grosser Tragweite und grosser politische Bedeutung handelt sowie die öffentliche Erwartung eine Volksabstimmung fordert. Diese Faktoren bestehen bei der BODLUV nicht, weshalb diese Systemen gemäss dem üblichen Verfahren beschafft werden soll. Die Volksabstimmung über die Beschaffung neuer Kampfflugzeuge ist für Ende September oder Ende November 2019 vorgesehen.

Das maximale Investitionsvolumen für die neuen Kampfflugzeug soll 6 Milliarden Franken nicht übersteigen, so dass für die BODLUV noch rund 2 Milliarden Franken übrig bleiben soll, welche zeitlich parallel und mit der Beschaffung des neuen Kampfflugzeuges koordiniert beschafft werden soll. Die 6 Milliarden Franken für die Kampfflugzeugbeschaffung reichen voraussichtlich eher für 30 als für anvisierte 40 Jets.

Ebenfalls basierend auf dem Zusatzbericht wurde der prozentuale Anteil der Offsetgeschäfte angepasst, welche nun bei 60% liegen. Sie sollen sich auf die Zulieferer (direkte Offsets im Umfang von 20%) sowie auf die sicherheitspolitisch relevante Technologie- und Industriebasis der Schweiz (indirekte Offsets im Umfang von 40%) beschränken und keine artfremde Industriesektoren “quersubventionieren”. Die schweizerische Industrie wird dies zwar bedauern, dadurch können die Kampfflugzeuge jedoch zu einem günstigeren Preis beschafft werden.

• • •

Update vom 01.06.2019
Gestern Abend, kurz nach 21 Uhr, ist der vierte Testkandidat bzw. vier Kampfflugzeuge des Typs F-35A Lightning II von der Hill Air Force Base in Utah nach Payerne überführt worden. Es scheint, dass die vier in Payerne gelandeten F-35A aus der Squadron stammen, welche sich momentan auf der Aviano Air Base in Italien aufhält. Wieso Lockheed Martin mit vier und nicht wie alle anderen Bewerber mit zwei Kampfflugzeugen an der Flug- und Bodenerprobung teilnimmt, bleibt ein Rätsel (dies entspricht den Evaluierungsbedingungen, wonach es dem Bewerber offen steht, mit wie vielen Kampfflugzeugen er an der Evaluierung teilnimmt).

Der Flug von Utah nach Italien stellte sich jedoch nicht so reibungslos wie erhofft dar. Wegen schlechtem Wetter und wegen Probleme bei der Luftbetankung mussten die vier F-35A letzten Mittwoch unplanmässig auf dem Burlington International Airport in Vermont zwischenlanden (mein Dank für diesen Hinweis geht an Andreas Hauck). Dies schlug in den lokalen Medien etwas Wellen, denn die von der Vermont Air National Guard zukünftig betriebenen F-35A sollen diesen Herbst auf diesem Flugplatz stationiert werden. Die Anwohner befürchten dadurch eine höhere Lärmbelastung, da die F-35A lauter als die momentan dort stationierten F-16 seien. Am Donnerstag fand dann wie geplant der Überflug über den Atlantik statt und schliesslich gestern der Transfer aus Italien in die Schweiz.

Landung der F-35A von Lockheed Martin (geflogen von der US Air Force); gestartet von der Hill Air Force Base in Utah (USA) und gelandet in Payerne am 31. Mai 2019. © VBS/DDPS

• • •

Update vom 15.06.2019
Letzten Donnerstag wurde die Kritik vieler Gripen-Gegner bestätigt: Der Gripen E, wie er von Saab der Schweiz offeriert wurde, ist ein Papierflieger! Spezialisten der Armasuisse und der Schweizer Luftwaffe kamen aufgrund aktueller Informationen und Analysen zum Reifegrad und der Integration der Subsysteme zum Schluss, dass mehrere der vorgesehenen Missionen während der bevorstehenden Evaluation nicht zielführend durchgeführt werden könnten. Bei den Subsystemen handelt es sich um Radarsysteme, optische Sensoren, Geräte zur elektronischen Kriegsführung und zur Datenübertragung. Insbesondere bei der Integration der Sensoren scheint Saab den Zeitplan nicht einhalten zu können, so dass eine Flug- und Bodenerprobungen wenig Sinn machen könnte. Deshalb empfahl Armasuisse Saab, sich aus der Evaluation zurückzuziehen, was Saab dann auch gemacht hat. Damit ist der Gripen E aus dem Rennen — da hilft auch Saabs Bestätigung nichts, dass die Offerte für den Gripen E nach wie vor gelten würde.

Eine Nichtteilnahme an den Flug- und Bodenerprobungen führt direkt zum Ausschluss eines Kandidaten. Ein Nachholen der Tests würde der Gleichbehandlung aller Kandidaten widersprechen. — Kaj-Gunnar Sievert, Mediensprecher Armasuisse, zitiert in Larissa Rhyn, “Der Bund schiesst den gripen ab“, NZZ, 14.06.2019, S. 1.

Als Alternative boot Saab die Evaluierung des Gripen C und eines Testmodells des Gripen E an. Es mutet naiv an, dass die Verantwortlichen bei Saab tatsächlich geglaubt hatten, mit dieser Masche durchzukommen. Deshalb ist das konsequente Vorgehen der Armasuisse zu begrüssen, auch wenn dies die Preisverhandlungen mit den verbleibenden Bewerbern für die Schweiz kaum einfacher machen wird. Der Gripen E wäre vermutlich die günstigste Variante gewesen, mit der die Armasuisse den Preisdruck aufrechterhalten hätte können. Innenpolitisch hätte die Selektion des Gripen E jedoch einen schweren Stand gehabt, denn es scheint schwierig zu begründen zu sein, weshalb die Schweiz ein Kampfflugzeug beschaffen will, das bereits 2014 eine Ablehnung durch die Stimmberechtigten erfahren hatte.


• • •

Air2030: Kernargumente

  • Die Armee braucht Kampfflugzuge und bodengestützte Luftverteidigung.
  • Was wir haben, ist veraltet oder wird es demnächst sein – bei BODLUV klafft gar eine Lücke.
  • Wir brauchen auch in Zukunft Kampf- flugzeuge und bodengestützte Luftverteidigung.
  • Die konzeptionellen Grundlagen liegen vor; es braucht nicht mehr Papiere.
  • Es gibt immer noch keine tauglichen Alternativen zu Kampfflugzeugen.
  • Air2030 ist bezahlbar – auch die dringenden Bedürfnisse anderer Teile der Armee.
  • Der Planungsbeschluss ist der richtige Weg; er erhöht die Planungssicherheit.
  • — Botschafter Dr. Christian Catrina zitiert in Peter Müller, “Air2030: Wie Die Hürden Meistern“, Allgemeine Schweizerische Militärzeitschrift, August 2018, S. 28.

• • •

Weitere Informationen

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China Deployed Two H-6 Bomber to Tibet in March

Xian Aircraft Corporation H-6 bomber

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force deployed two Xian Aircraft Corporation H-6 bomber to Xigatse airbase in the Tibet Autonomous Region, reviewed data has confirmed. Xigatse is the nearest airbase to the previous Doklam crisis and India’s strategic Siliguri corridor.

The H-6 arrived at the airbase between 02 and 03 March as tensions between India and Pakistan increased over the Balakot strikes. The aircraft were observed on the eastern alert ramp along with a new rotation of possible CASC CH-5 UAV. The strike capable UAV arrived as workers erected two hangars on the alert apron.

The CH-5 replaced the deployment of CAIG Xianglong which had been at the airbase since the Doklam crisis reached its height in August 2017. At the time, the Chinese press suggested that the PLA could remove Indian troops from its territory through force.

The H-6 remained approximately a week before departing the airbase between 10 and 12 March. This is the first time the H-6 have been recorded at the airbase in open sources.

On the other side of the border, renovations to infrastructure continue at India’s Hasimara. New weapons handling areas and a new aircraft hangar are underway. Although no deployed units have been noted, the Indian Air Force keeps several “decommissioned” MIG-27 near operational areas of the airbase. Older derelict MIG-27 have been moved south of the runway for storage.

Hasimara is the closest airbase to Doklam, an area where China still maintains a substantial ground presence. Two Akash groups composed of four batteries each remain on-site north of the runway for air defense. The airbase will reportedly support a squadron of Dassault Rafale after deliveries commence in September 2019.

Bottom Line
The deployment of H-6 during a crisis period with Pakistan likely heightens Indian policy maker fears of fighting a two front war.

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