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 in 2017.

Page views of the Turkish Wikipedia 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). 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 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.

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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 , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 F-35 Lightning II und der 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 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 Exportbemühungen gelangen im Jahr 2015 Exportaufträge von je 24 Maschinen an die Luftstreitkräfte Katars sowie Ägyptens, wobei Qatar 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

Ausserdem hat der Bundesrat vor zwei Tagen beschlossen, dass das VBS dem Bundesrat 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.


• • •

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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Still an Open Question: What Can Twitter Do About Militancy?

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

[…] ISIS message calling for people to return to Twitter, because even though Telegram is very useful and is a safe haven for them, nothing is as good as mobilizing, getting your message out very broadly as Twitter. — Alberto M. Fernandez, Vice President of Middle East Media Research Institute, in a hearing before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the United States Senate on July 6, 2016, p. 40.

While terrorist groups in the Middle East have long taken advantage of social networking services from Facebook to Snapchat, Twitter remains unique in that it has enabled these militants to engage with the rest of the world. Like celebrities, journalists, and politicians, terrorists have often turned to Twitter to make their case in the court of public opinion. If the Western world wants to keep terrorist groups from transforming microblogging on Twitter into the long-term outlet for their propaganda, law enforcement agencies will have to integrate social media into their wider strategy for counterterrorism.

Drawing on al-Qaeda’s early success with social media, the Islamic State (ISIS) pioneered the use of Twitter by employing the social networking service to announce campaigns, disseminate propaganda, promote suicide attacks, and recruit fighters from the edges of the Middle East to the heart of the West. For half a decade, Twitter has allowed ISIS to reach target audiences across the globe.

“The past few years have seen social media as an effective tool for facilitating uprisings and enticing dissent in the Middle East,” states one report. “The embrace of social media in the region has made it a battleground for ISIS versus existing regimes, all spreading propaganda, recruiting sympathizers, and undermining rivals. Social media has given terrorists the ability to directly come into contact with their target audience and either spread terror or recruit. In fact, ISIS has been repeatedly described as the most adept terrorist group at using Internet and social media propaganda to recruit new members.”

Much of ISIS’s strength on Twitter has come from supporters outside the territories in the Middle East that the terrorist group once controlled. Pro-ISIS accounts on the social networking service numbered between forty-six thousand and seventy thousand in 2015, a year after the militants captured Mosul. The terrorist group’s reach on Twitter extends even to the United States, where authorities have just arrested a woman who joined a little-known pro-ISIS hacker group, the United Cyber Caliphate.

Tweets, photos, and other visuals from ISIS and ISIS-friendly accounts feature a mixture of slick production and attempts at intimacy and personal connection. (Source: Emerson T. Brooking and P. W. Singer, "War Goes Viral", The Atlantic, November 2016).

Tweets, photos, and other visuals from ISIS and ISIS-friendly accounts feature a mixture of slick production and attempts at intimacy and personal connection. (Source: Emerson T. Brooking and P. W. Singer, “War Goes Viral“, The Atlantic, November 2016).

“This large body of ‘passive supporters’ contributes to the volume of ISIS-related content proliferated on Twitter and appears to be a vital component of the ISIS social media campaign,” noted a report from Carnegie Mellon University. “Some of these passive sympathizers become recruiting targets. ISIS uses small teams of social media users to lavish attention on the potential recruits and move the conversation to more secure online platforms. Thus, while Twitter may not be the place where recruitment ends, growing evidence suggests that identifiable patterns of recruitment begin on Twitter.”

In an attempt to address the challenge presented by ISIS and other terrorist groups, Twitter has responded by banning accounts tied to the militants. In 2017, the social networking service opted to purge almost four hundred thousand terrorist-linked accounts. Twitter has adopted a similar no-holds-barred approach to other users with ulterior motives, such as Iranian and Russian intelligence agencies.

Scholars continue to debate the ultimate effectiveness of suspending pro-ISIS Twitter accounts. “One argument made by some ISIS supporters, as well as some counterterrorism professionals, is that suspending social media users is a futile endeavor because the users will simply create a new account, thus negating the benefit of suspension,” observed a report by J. M. Berger and Heather Perez, experts on counterterrorism. “The fact that suspensions reduce key metrics in the period immediately following suspension is not surprising in itself, but we found that the depressive effects of suspension often continued even after an account returned and was not immediately re-suspended.”

During Operation Euphrates Shield, the Turkish Armed Forces borrowed a page from ISIS’s playbook, using social media to instill a sense of unopposable force. (Source: Brooking and Singer).

During Operation Euphrates Shield, the Turkish Armed Forces borrowed a page from ISIS’s playbook, using social media to instill a sense of unopposable force. (Source: Brooking and Singer).

Between 2015 and mid-2018, Twitter removed no less than 1.2 million accounts that expressed support for terrorism, earning praise in some corners for taking a proactive approach to ISIS’s exploitation of social media. However, the social networking service’s attempts to police itself have often raised complex questions about censorship, and some observers worry that the strategy could backfire. “Twitter’s policies hinder sympathizers on the platform, but counter-ISIS practitioners should not overstate the impact of these measures in the broader fight against the organization online,” argued a report by Audrey Alexander, a senior research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. “Silencing ISIS adherents on Twitter may produce unwanted side effects that challenge law enforcement’s ability to detect and disrupt threats posed by violent extremists.”

Though Twitter enhances ISIS’s ability to engage with followers and solicit support online, the terrorist group’s use of social media also provides intelligence and law enforcement agencies countless opportunities to target the militants. The FBI surveilled ISIS’s propagandists to track the militants’ reach inside the U.S., and the NSA battled the terrorist group across the Internet. In a notable example, the U.S. Air Force managed to locate an ISIS military base after one of the militants forgot to turn off geotagging before making a post to social media.

“Censorship is not a solution to counter the ISIS threat,” concluded a report by Andrea Ceron, Luigi Curini, and Stefano M. Iacus, professors at the University of Milan. “Quite the contrary, by decreasing expressed support for the terrorist group, censorship can favor radicalization.”

The RAND Corporation proposed that law enforcement agencies could mobilize influential Arab and Western Twitter users against ISIS, an approach that would circumvent concerns about censorship while allowing intelligence agencies to continue monitoring the terrorist group. As ISIS has all but lost control of its so-called caliphate, these debates have fallen by the wayside, but the potential for terrorist groups to exploit social media remains no less concerning. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, and their allies throughout Africa and Asia remain as active as ever.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter in particular must arrive at a comprehensive strategy to prevent terrorist groups from taking advantage of social media to plan attacks and recruit followers. Terrorists rely on social media to expand their reach and spread their message. To prevent social media from facilitating militancy in the Middle East and the West, Twitter and its allies in Silicon Valley need to devise an immediate solution to one of counterterrorism and the Internet’s most pressing challenges.

• • •

How do terrorists talk to you?

The video above is from this excellent New York Times’ report: Rukmini Callimachi, “ISIS and the Lonely Young American“, June 27, 2015.

• • •

Posted in Austin Michael Bodetti, Cyberwarfare, English, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Algerian Foreign Policy in a Post-Bouteflika Era

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.

Algerians continue to stage demonstrations, despite the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with protesters demanding the departure of all officials affiliated with the former president's regime (outside the Post Office Building in Algiers on April 05, 2019; photo by Enes Canli.

Algerians continue to stage demonstrations, despite the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with protesters demanding the departure of all officials affiliated with the former president’s regime (outside the Post Office Building in Algiers on April 05, 2019; photo by Enes Canli.

On 11 March 2019, one of Africa’s oldest dictators announced his intention to retire from politics. At 82 years of age, and plagued by health problems ever since he suffered a debilitating stroke in April 2013, Abdelaziz Bouteflika had implausibly sought a fifth term as President of Algeria in an election originally expected to be held in April 2019. Bouteflika’s about-face was precipitated by a month of mostly peaceful protests in Algiers and elsewhere in the country, as well as a statement of support for the protesters by Algerian military leaders. However, Bouteflika has postponed the presidential election until a “national conference” can be held to propose revisions to the country’s political system, which would then be codified in a new Constitution, even though Algeria’s current constitutional framework was only adopted in February 2016. This has prompted the protesters, who only fill the streets in higher numbers with each passing week, to accuse the President of drawing out the transition so as to retain power indefinitely. The uncertainty regarding Algeria’s political future has been compounded by Bouteflika’s resignation, rendered on April 2, and his likely succession as Interim President by Abdelkader Bensalah, the Chairman of the Council of the Nation, the upper house of Algeria’s parliament, in line with the current Constitution.

End of May 2018, soldiers of the Algerian People's National Armed Forces discovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in the south of the country, on the border with Mali, about 80 kilometers south of Algiers.

End of May 2018, soldiers of the Algerian People’s National Armed Forces discovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in the south of the country, on the border with Mali, about 80 kilometers south of Algiers.

Given these developments, it is worthwhile to consider how Algerian foreign policy might take shape in a post-Bouteflika era. Algeria has been a significant partner in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), both of which operate in the country and who seek the overthrow of Algeria’s secular government. In the wake of the Libyan civil war, and as the security situation in the Sahel has deteriorated, Algeria has also been targeted by militant Islamists, most famously in January 2013, when members of AQIM-affiliated al-Mourabitoun seized the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas, killing dozens. At the same time, Algerian policy has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in Western Sahara, including the forced expulsion of refugees without food or water with which to traverse the desert.

Based on some reports, as many as 32 candidates had sought to replace Bouteflika prior to the postponement of the election. It would be exceedingly difficult to provide an analysis of the potential impact each of these candidates might have on Algerian foreign policy, especially as some may not have yet considered Algeria’s place in the region and the broader international community. Though Bouteflika had been supported by the country’s governing coalition – comprised of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the Democratic National Rally (RND), the Algerian Popular Movement (MPA), and the Rally of Algerian Hope (TAJ) – there are a smattering of opposition parties represented in Algeria’s bicameral legislature: the Movement for the Society of Peace (MPS), the Justice and Development Front (FJD), Future Front (FF), the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), the Workers’ Party (PT), the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), and others. To narrow this analysis, we will consider here only those candidates who have received backing from one of these parties or, with Bouteflika stepping down, could potentially receive such backing.

Ali Benflis, candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Algeria, in the offices of his campaign team, in Algiers, on April 14.

Ali Benflis, candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Algeria, in the offices of his campaign team, in Algiers, on April 14.

Ali Benflis called for a boycott of the April 2019 presidential election but might reconsider if there were sufficient reason to believe that a free and fair vote will be held. Benflis had served as Prime Minister of Algeria from 2000 to 2003, and then emerged as Bouteflika’s main challenger in the 2004 and 2014 presidential elections. Benflis seems intent on implementing the security sector reforms necessary for ensuring the health of Algeria’s democracy and that Algeria is defended by a professional military force, but it is not readily apparent as to what role, if any, Benflis envisions for Algeria in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Western Sahara, stemming the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, or combating militant Islamist forces in the Sahel. Given the strong focus of his statements in recent years on domestic issues, such as food security and the diversification away from oil and gas production, it is likely that Algeria would be less engaged in regional and international affairs under Benflis’ leadership.

Algerian businessman and political activist Rachid Nekkaz (C) arrives in front of the city hall of Algiers during a gathering for his supporters, on February 23, 2019. (Photo: Ryad Kramdi).

Algerian businessman and political activist Rachid Nekkaz (C) arrives in front of the city hall of Algiers during a gathering for his supporters, on February 23, 2019. (Photo: Ryad Kramdi).

Rachid Nekkaz is perhaps the most unusual presidential candidate in Algeria’s recent history. Although he has renounced his French citizenship in order to exclusively become a citizen of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, Algerian constitutional law prohibits anyone who has ever held the citizenship of another country to seek election as President. To circumvent this, Nekkaz, a wealthy entrepreneur, intends for his cousin, an Algiers-based mechanic with the same name, to run in his stead. If successful, the cousin would appoint Nekkaz his Vice President, then resign so that Nekkaz could assume the presidency. Nekkaz has also been partial to political theatrics, most recently delivering an hour-long speech on the steps of the Christiansborg Palace, seat of the Danish government in Copenhagen, in September 2018, during which he accused the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, of personally financing terrorism. In 2007, he also sought to become an officially recognized candidate for the French presidency but could not gather the required number of signatures.

There is little to suggest that Nekkaz would pursue meaningful reforms in Algeria and his behaviour in both French and Algerian politics over the past decade suggests a tendency toward populism. For the protesters angered by the elitism of Bouteflika and his allies, that populism and irreverence might well be appealing. However, as questions abound about the future of the League of Arab States, the Arab Maghreb Union, and other regional and international organizations of which Algeria is a member, as well as some of the pressing regional issues, the election of Nekkaz would have a seriously negative effect on Algerian influence and impair constructive dialogue.

Lakhdar Brahimi attends the "Rethinking and Reforming Global Governance" session on day three of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2019 on March 28, 2019. He is even older than Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Lakhdar Brahimi attends the “Rethinking and Reforming Global Governance” session on day three of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2019 on March 28, 2019. He is even older than Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Though not a declared candidate, there has been some speculation as to whether Lakhdar Brahimi could emerge as a unifying figure in Algeria’s post-Bouteflika politics. A respected diplomat and statesman, Brahimi played an integral role in South Africa’s post-apartheid transition, efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and Iraq following the US-led interventions in those countries, and most recently served as the United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria in 2012-2014. In March 2019, Bouteflika seemed to take Brahimi out of the running by appointing him to chair the conference that revises the Constitution. However, that role, if the revisions are timely and satisfy societal grievances, might also serve to reinforce Brahimi’s role as a figure for national reconciliation. Interestingly, Brahimi has broken with Algeria’s conventional policy on Western Sahara, even calling in a December 2016 speech for joint administration of that territory by Algeria and Morocco. Brahimi has also been rather outspoken about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even when his role has had little to do with that issue. In 2004, for example, he attracted controversy for calling Israeli policy toward the West Bank and Gaza “the big poison in the region” and then criticizing American policymakers for their “thoughtless support” of Israel in regional affairs. Certainly, a more assertive foreign policy could be expected under Brahimi, though it is unclear whether this would extend to Algeria taking a side in the diplomatic dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Ali Ghediri in February 2019.

Ali Ghediri in February 2019.

Ali Ghediri, a retired general, is a likely successor to Bouteflika. Few details have been offered thus far as to his vision for Algeria’s future, with much of his public statements focusing on the need for stability and references to the terrible toll wrought by the civil war Algeria experienced from 1991 to 2002, in which more than 100,000 people lost their lives. This message is not likely to resonate with the youth who have led the protest movement thus far, having no memory of the conflict, but it could draw the endorsement of the FLN-led governing coalition, who no doubt fear the potential loss of their control over the country with Bouteflika’s retirement and what that could mean for the 16-year-old peace. Many Algerians speak of “le pouvoir” (the powers that be), a kind of deep state comprised of military leaders, senior bureaucrats, and business elites who have rendered Bouteflika little more than a figurehead and so wield the true power in Algerian politics. The fear is that Ghediri could be backed by “le pouvoir” as a false alternative to Bouteflika, offering voters the semblance of political change without offering any meaningful reforms. Were these fears to be realized, Algerian foreign policy would likely remain consistent through the post-Bouteflika transition, but it is unclear whether Algeria could be a credible partner in regional counter-terrorism efforts. In fact, some protesters might become radicalized, expressing through violent means their anger at being denied a democratic change in Algeria.

With a population of more than 42 million people and a territory that encompasses a significant swath of Northern Africa, Algeria is a regional power and a significant participant in the international community. When Bouteflika leaves power, and how he does, will have bearing well beyond Algerian borders. Much as the African Union must now hold Bouteflika accountable for his commitment to cede power, security partners should also follow how the debate evolves in Algerian society regarding Algeria’s place in the world and what contributions it might yet make. The rise of populism could exacerbate conflicts and the cost of the humanitarian crisis in Western Sahara, but a ‘business as usual’ attitude at the highest echelons of Algerian politics will not advance the pursuit of peace and stability in the Sahel.

Posted in Algeria, English, Paul Pryce, Politics in General | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How Russia Annexed Venezuela without Firing a Shot (Yet)

by Caleb M. Larson. He covers American security and foreign policy as well as European defense with a focus on Eastern Europe and Russia. He holds a Bachelor of Art in History from UCLA and a Master of Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.

Russia and Venezuela are friends of convenience. Under the regime of Hugo Chávez their relationship centered around a common enemy, the United States. Today under Nicolás Maduro, the Moscow-Caracas axis centers around economic opportunities, influence, and security. The Maduro regime is concerned with self-preservation, and Moscow is deeply intent securing lucrative economic opportunities in the oil sector. As a realist state, Russia is also determined to increase influence in Latin America at the expense of the United States. The unstable political situation in Venezuela allows Moscow to achieve some of these foreign policy goals through economic means as Venezuela’s lender of last resort.

Venezuela likewise continues to invest heavily in Russian products, mostly military equipment and weapons systems. Under Maduro, Venezuela has also partnered most prominently with the Russian oil company Rosneft in trading Venezuela’s enormous oil assets and future development projects for loans, and in establishing the Petro, the world’s first state-backed cryptocurrency. Venezuela is currently heavily indebted to external creditors, in particular to Russia, and its solvency is in question. Russia in turn, continues to provide the Maduro regime with lines of credit and armed manpower via the private military company Wagner and regular troops, in return for payments in oil, exploration deals, and cryptocurrency support of dubious value.

On 24 March 2019, Russia used an Ilyushin IL-62M and an Antonov AN-124 to transport around 100 soldiers and 35 tons of material (the image shows the unloading of trucks) from the Russian military air base at Chkalovsky to Caracas International Airport with a stopover in Syria.

On 24 March 2019, Russia used an Ilyushin IL-62M and an Antonov AN-124 to transport around 100 soldiers and 35 tons of material (the image shows the unloading of trucks) from the Russian military air base at Chkalovsky to Simón Bolívar International Airport with a stopover in Syria (see also Carlos Garcia et al., “Russian Air Force Planes Land in Venezuela Carrying Troops: Reports“, Reuters, 24.03.2019).

Guns & Gestures
The arrival of two Tupolev Tu-160’s in Caracas and subsequent military maneuvers over the Caribbean made headlines last December, but it is not the first time the nuclear-capable platforms have visited Venezuela. Two Tu-160’s also paid a visit to Venezuela in September 2008 and 2013. A part of the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet also participated in joint naval maneuvers in the Caribbean with Venezuela in 2008. Although the United States has blasted the current Russian aviation presence in Venezuela, it is not without precedent.

Russian and Venezuelan partnership in the arms industry is extensive and includes small arms as well as larger weapons platforms. In 2007, Venezuela purchased 5,000 Dragunov sniper rifles (delivered in 2008, according to Stratfor), 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles (Anna Khakee, Pablo Dreyfus, and Anne-Kathrin Glatz, “An Uphill Battle: Understanding Small Arms Transfers“, Small Arms Survey, 2006, p. 87), and was in negotiations to open a plant to build 25,000 licensed-built AK-103 rifles annually. As of 2009, over $4 billion in arms sales were reported for 92 T-72’s, the Buk-M2 and the S-300 air defense systems, and BMP-3’s, 24 Sukhoi-30MK’s, and an assortment of helicopter gunships and cargo transports (see also a SIPRI’s listing of weapon systems supplied by Russia to Venezuela between 2000 and 2018).

Under Chávez, Venezuela also secured a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia in 2010, intending to build a nuclear reactor, ironically to ease power blackouts caused by unreliable electric grid infrastructure in the world’s most oil-rich nation. These nuclear plans have yet to be realized, and in the post-Fukushima world, future development would appear unlikely.

Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers land in Venezuela for “combined operational flights” in December 2018.

Sold to Moscow
The vast majority of Venezuela’s purchasing power stems from both proven and unproven oil reserves. Venezuela enjoys the largest proven oil reserves on the planet, at over 300 billion barrels, and has used this potential source of income to finance a mismanaged economy via lines of credit given by Russia in return for oil and natural gas exploration and development rights, and by shipments of millions of barrels of oil to repay debts. Although the heyday of massive Soviet financial assistance in Latin America is long over, continued Russian investment into the region indicates a renewed, long-term interest in maintaining and deepening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

In 2011 at least two $4 billion loans were secured from Russia ostensibly to modernize Venezuela’s aging military. A further $6.5 billion was given from the Russian oil company Rosneft to the Venezuela state-owned oil and natural-gas company, PdVSA for 4 million barrels of crude oil per month, which Venezuela is unable to deliver in full. This credit-for-oil scheme delivers oil straight to Rosneft and prevents oil from being sold on the world market to refineries, further impoverishing the Venezuelan economy and making Caracas more beholden to Moscow.

In 2016, Rosneft and PdVSA proposed jointly developing Venezuelan offshore natural gas fields. Additionally, Venezuela offered 49.9% of PdVSA’s Citgo shares (a US-based, Venezuelan-owned refinery) as loan collateral to Rosneft for a $1.5 billion loan top of PdVSA’s previous bond swap using 50.1% of its Citgo shares. Citgo is Venezuela’s most valuable foreign asset. Thus, Rosneft’s Citgo ownership is concerning, although Citgo is in the process of cutting ties with PdVSA to avoid US sanctions against Venezuela and to ensure that creditors would not seize Citgo if Caracas defaults on debt payments.

Additionally, Rosneft owns 40% stakes in four significant PdVSA oil exploration and development projects, Petromonagas, Petrovictoria, Petroperija, Boqueron, and a 32% stake in Petromiranda. Incredibly, PdVSA also offered Rosneft a 10% stake in Petropiar, perhaps PdVSA’s most valuable project (“Vladimir’s Venezuela“, Reuters, 11.08.2017). The Petropiar project centers around the Orinoco Oil Belt, one of the world’s largest recoverable oil accumulations, and likely one of Venezuela’s most valuable domestic assets.

Russian entry into Venezuela’s oil economy represents a serious coup for a non-OPEC member. Low oil prices have significantly reduced Russian economic clout, but Russian influence in Venezuela’s oil industry could allow Rosneft to raise global oil prices by controlling much of Venezuelan output. Depending on the success of the above oil projects, Rosneft is poised to absorb a significant amount of the world’s oil wealth.

A look into Venezuelan finances paints a clearer picture of how Rosneft stands to gain from these deals. Venezuela owes over $100 billion to external creditors, and possibly as much as $150 billion. In 2018, oil production was approximately at 1.5 million barrels a day, down from 3.2 million a day in 2008.

Whether Venezuela defaults on debt and loan payments or not, solvency is precarious. Serious inroads have been made by Russia, in particular in securing significant stakes in oil projects by Rosneft. Russian strategic positioning as Venezuela’s lender of last resort gives Rosneft a significant amount of leverage over Maduro and his cronies and has resulted in Russian ownership of a large number of significant Venezuelan oil assets.

The logo of the "Petro" is displayed next to images of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) and the current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a building in downtown Caracas, on September 21, 2018. Six months after Venezuela introduced the Petro cryptocurrency, with which the Maduro government seeks to evade financial sanctions from the US, started selling to the public, it is still not exchangeable for money, goods or other cryptocurrencies such as the Bitcoin.

The logo of the “Petro” is displayed next to images of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) and the current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a building in downtown Caracas, on September 21, 2018. Six months after Venezuela introduced the Petro cryptocurrency, with which the Maduro government seeks to evade financial sanctions from the US, started selling to the public, it is still not exchangeable for money, goods or other cryptocurrencies such as the Bitcoin.

The Petro
Introduced in February 2018 as a way to skirt sanctions from the United States and to access financing and investment from abroad, the Petro was to be backed against Venezuela’s oil, gold, gas, and diamond reserves and was the first state-back cryptocurrency. The move was aimed at increasing Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves via online Petro sales in order to provide Venezuela some degree of freedom from US sanctions.

Russia too has voiced support for a financial system that could rival the dollar in order to sidestep US and European sanctions. The Bitcoin and burgeoning cryptocurrency craze provided a convenient and cost-effective opportunity to experiment on alternative financial markets. Given the unregulated nature of cryptocurrencies, Russia could in theory, introduce a cryptocurrency at home that would allow it to skirt US sanctions, much the same as the Petro aims to do. Rather than create an online version of the Ruble that could jeopardize the Russian currency, Russia encouraged Venezuela to attempt an initial foray into state-backed cryptocurrencies itself and learn from the Caracas experiment.

Maduro announced the introduction of the cryptocurrency flanked by two Russian advisors during a stiff and choreographed Petro cryptocurrency launch. The Venezuelan Minister of Finance Simón Zerpa Delgado was later photographed in Moscow hand-delivering a report on the findings of the Venezuelan experience with the Petro to his Russian counterpart (see the Twitter message below). Maduro, in turn, directed companies in Venezuela to execute international transactions through the Russian Evorfinance Mosnarbank.

The success of the Petro is hard to gauge. Maduro announced via Twitter that the Petro had raised $5 billion, although but this figure may be unreliable and is difficult to prove. Hindering the Petro’s success is the White House Executive Order forbidding any transactions in Petro. Of great concern is how the Petro would facilitate money laundering and other criminal activity due to the anonymity such currencies offer to online buyers and sellers.

Wagner, a Partnership Continued
As previously detailed, Wagner is a Russian private military company that has had a presence in North Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine. Wagner members have provided training, security, and participated in direct action operations on behalf of both Russia and their host countries. Made up mostly of Russian ex-military, Wagner functions an easily-deniable extension of the Russian Ministry of Defense and a useful tool in advancing the Russian foreign policy agenda.

Recently the group has been observed in Caracas, seemingly as a Pretorian Guard of sorts for the embattled Maduro, who has had to contend with both an assassination attempt (see video below), and a rival to the presidency that is widely recognized within the Americas and Europe. Interestingly, this contingent of Wagner members may be augmenting a preexisting Russian presence in Venezuela. A Reuters source claims that Wagner has had some presence in Venezuela since May of 2018. The same report also claims that the latest contingent made its way to Caracas not directly from Russia, but from various countries where they had been executing other missions.

Wagner’s independence from Venezuelan politics ensures reliability and dependability. When considering the massive amount of sunk costs that Russia has put into the Maduro government, having boots on the ground would help to preserve the declining Maduro regime. A physical presence would also be useful to protect oil infrastructure if an armed conflict breaks out, especially with the rhetoric coming from the White House. Rosneft in particular would be glad to see a Russian presence in Venezuela, given the massive amount of investment and prospective profits to be made via oil and natural gas exploration.

Regular Soldiers for “Regular Work”
Additional regular Russian personnel were seen landing in Caracas on March 24th. Russia denies claims that this additional contingent will have any involvement in military operations, but a look at what and who arrived raises questions. According to reports, approximately 100 personnel and 35 tons of supplies, mostly foodstuffs arrived. One of the reported passengers was Colonel-General Vasily Tonkokurov. Tonkokurov, who previously served with distinction in Afghanistan and Chechnya, was recently appointed as Chief of the Main Staff of the Ground Forces.

More interesting than the size and composition of the Russian contingent in Venezuela is Tonkokurov’s presence. What could a decorated and combat-tested general be up to up Venezuela? Playing the role of a weapons salesman and armorer? This may be true. However as previously stated, Russia, via Rosneft, has put a massive amount of money into keeping the Maduro regime afloat. Having a battle-tested general in-country would certainly help to retain newly acquired assets if a civil war or armed conflict breaks out. Official statements by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs state that the timeline of the Russia presence in Venezuela is open-ended; Russia is conducting “the implementation of agreements in the field of military-technical cooperation. How long? As much as they need. As much as the Venezuelan government will need.”

Skeptics are reminded that Russian entry into the Syrian Civil War was predicted to be quagmirical, but that Russia effectively saved Bashar al-Assad from defeat. Russia gained combat experience, has tested weapon systems, and was able to secure its strategic interests in the Middle East. Combined with a dysfunctional US Congress and an unclear foreign policy agenda, Russian intervention in Venezuela looks more like a well thought, low-risk, high-reward gamble.

A Pebble in America’s Shoe
Ultimately Russia is not so interested in Maduro the man as Venezuela the investment. Preserving Maduro in Caracas protects Russian investments in Venezuela’s potentially profitable oil sector, and could entail more arms sales down the line. Perhaps more importantly however is how Venezuela is facilitating a Russian presence in Latin America. From Caracas, Moscow has the opportunity to project itself, and its agenda, not only into neighboring South American countries but also into large swaths of Latin America.

Russia has shown a desire for an increased presence globally. Wagner and other private military contractors have been the vehicles of Russian foreign policy in Syria, CAR, Sudan, Libya, and Ukraine. By offering predatory investments to a dictator willing to sell out his country for a song, and by slowly building up both an overt and covert armed presence in Caracas, Russia is creeping into Latin America and cheaply accomplishing strategic economic and foreign policy objectives. Future developments should be closely watched.

Posted in Armed Forces, Caleb M. Larson, International, Russia, Security Policy, Venezuela | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments