The Triple Shocks of 1979 and the Making of the Middle East

by Lt. Col. Chad M. Pillai. He is a U.S. Army strategist who has served in assignments in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Lt. Col. Pillai is a published author in a variety of journals and online forums to include and received his Master of International Public Policy (MIPP) degree from the Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The opinion in this article reflect the author’s personal views and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government or the Department of Defense.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran in the Oval Office of the White House on June 24, 2019 in Washington, DC (Photo: Oliver Contreras).

U.S. President Donald Trump holds an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran in the Oval Office of the White House on June 24, 2019 in Washington, DC (Photo: Oliver Contreras).

Presently, tensions between the United States and Iran remain high and, despite the defeat of the physical caliphate, the Islamic State remains a constant danger as seen by the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. These facts, along with the return of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, can be traced back to three cataclysmic shocks that occurred 40 years ago, and which continue to reverberate today.

In 1979 the world witnessed the Iranian Revolution, the Siege of Holy Mosque in Mecca, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These had and continue to have a profound impact on both the regimes and people of the region and global powers to this very day. These three shocks, more than the traumas of the 2011 Arab Spring or the demise of the Ottoman Empire over a hundred years ago, continue to influence the strategic calculations of the United States and its European allies. The region’s centrality for global energy security remains a core national interest of the United States, and increasingly that of China who has been expanding its overseas presence to secure access to energy and raw materials to support its expanding economy.

A brief review of the triple shocks will highlight their interconnectedness these past four decades to the present day.

Shock #1 – The Iranian Revolution
On February 11, 1979, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown and replaced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s theocratic Islamic Government. The Shah had come to power in 1953 after the CIA and MI-6 orchestrated a coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Andrew Scott Cooper, in his book “The Oil Kings“, chronicles the Shah’s rule and demonstrates that the Shah was the centerpiece for the U.S. strategy to contain the Soviet Union in the Middle East.

While the Shah’s regime acted as the proxy for the U.S. in the Middle East, the Government was extremely repressive towards its people while it spent vast sums of money on its military buildup (see also Paul Iddon, “In the 1970s the Shah sought to make Iran a military superpower“,, 09.09.2018). Additionally, the Shah’s lavish lifestyle and attempts at forcing modernization reforms angered the traditional Shia clerics. Leading up to the 1979 revolution, Khomeini rallied the opposition against the regime. Eventually, the opposition to the Shah proved overwhelming, forcing him to flee Iran. Thousands hailed the Ayatollah’s return in Tehran as the remnants of the monarchy collapsed. To prevent another CIA-backed coup, the Ayatollah formed the Revolutionary Guards to crush dissent and western influence culminating in the November 1979 seizure of American hostages at the American embassy. The embassy seizure spawned 40 years of hostility between Iran and the United States.

Since 1979, Iran became the chief state-sponsor of terrorism throughout the Middle East and the world. It supported the rise of Lebanese Hezbollah during the Lebanese Civil War that led to the 1983 bombings of the Marine Barracks and U.S. embassy. In turn, Lebanese Hezbollah has become one of the most dangerous hybrid militant organizations in the Middle East that fought Israel to a draw in 2006 and served as a critical element in the preservation of the Assad Regime in Syria. However, from 1980-2001 and 2003, the Iranians were effectively blocked from expanding their influence in the region by Saddam Hussein and in the east by the prolonged conflict in Afghanistan to include the rise of the Taliban.

The events of 9/11 led to the fall of the Taliban, followed by Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, that effectively unshackled Iran and allowed it to expand its influence throughout the region dubbed the Shia Crescent by the King of Jordan in 2004. From 2003-2011, Iran waged an unofficial proxy campaign against the United States by supplying Iraqi insurgents material support – to include use of Explosive Formed Projectiles (EFPs) – which the United States claimed Iran was responsible for the deaths of over 600 service members. In 2011, Iran claimed a strategic victory as the United States abided by its agreement with the Iraqi Government to remove its combat forces and leave a small advisory force behind. In 2014, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria provided Iran the opportunity to further its influence as its forces moved to support the Shia-led Government in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria (see also Austin Michael Bodetti, “Iran Needs Afghans and Pakistanis in Syria“,, 16.04.2016 and Galen Wright, “Iran Expands Presence in Syria With Special Forces Deployment“,, 19.04.2016).

Brian Hook, the US special representative on Iran, checks what Saudi officials said were Iranian-made Huthi missiles and drones intercepted over Saudi territory and the remnants of a "cruise missile" that slammed into Abha airport, Saudi Arabia on June 12, during a visit to an army base in al-Kharj, south of the Saudi capital Riyadh, on June 21, 2019 (Photo: Fayez Nureldine).

Brian Hook, the US special representative on Iran, checks what Saudi officials said were Iranian-made Huthi missiles and drones intercepted over Saudi territory and the remnants of a “cruise missile” that slammed into Abha airport, Saudi Arabia on June 12, during a visit to an army base in al-Kharj, south of the Saudi capital Riyadh, on June 21, 2019 (Photo: Fayez Nureldine).

Iran’s presence in Syria has escalated tensions with Israel as Israel has conducted military strikes against Iranian equipment and personnel. In 2015, Iran capitalized on the Yemen Civil War by supporting the Houthi rebels against the Royal Yemeni Government and their Saudi Arabian and Emeriti backers (see also Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian Support Seen Crucial for Yemen’s Houthis“, Reuters, 15.12.2014). The war in Yemen has intensified with Houthi ballistic missile and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate, and attacks against shipping in the Bab el-Mandeb straits connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In 2015, Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. In 2018, the United States withdrew from JCPOA and began to reinstitute sanctions against the Iranian regime for its malign activities in the Middle East. In 2019, the United States, as part of its Maximum Pressure Campaign, ended its waiver program for Iranian oil purchases to pressure the regime to re-negotiate JCPOA that would include rolling back its influence throughout the region. As a result, tensions have escalated recently with the United States enhancing its military presence in the area due to potential threats to the U.S. and its partner forces in the region.

Forty years after the Iranian Revolution, the United States and Iran remain one miscalculation away from war.

Shock #2 – The Siege of Mecca
On November 1979, Juhayman al-Otaybi and his band of radical extremists attacked Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca. The events of the Siege of Mecca were detailed in “The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine” by Yaroslav Trofimov. Juhayman al-Otaybi felt that the Saudi regime had become too decadent and had swayed from the strict interpretation of the Koran. The siege lasted 15 days and required the Saudis to seek support from France to reclaim its holy site. During the attack, Juhayman al-Otaybi declared himself the Mahdi, Islam’s religious redeemer who would appear at the “End of Days”. During the siege, tied with the recent unrest in the region, there were even moments when the Saudi Regime accused Iran of orchestrating the attack on the holy site highlighting the growing tension between the King of Saudi Arabia and the new Ayatollah. The Saudi Government executed al-Otaybi and his primary ring leaders at the end of the siege. Most of the rest of the extremists were jailed then released, and later joined or provided the inspiration for terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. For the Saudi Regime, it was not the first, nor the last time they made a deal with the devil. However, the third shock, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, provided the Saudis the opportunity to re-direct the anger of the Wahhabist extremist in their country by supporting their efforts to join the mujahedeen against the atheist Soviets.

Picture dated December 1979 in Jeddah of arrested Moslem gunmen belonging to the group commanded by Juhayman al-Otaybi, who seized the Mecca's Great Mosque. Some arrested gunmen were later executed.

Picture dated December 1979 in Jeddah of arrested Moslem gunmen belonging to the group commanded by Juhayman al-Otaybi, who seized the Mecca’s Great Mosque. Some arrested gunmen were later executed.

The siege of Mecca can be linked directly to the events of 9/11 and today with the continued global threat from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The timeline of Islamic extremist leading up to 9/11 is laid out in the book “The Terror Timeline – Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11 – and America’s Response” by Paul Thompson.

The war in Afghanistan became fertile ground for extremists who became a pawn of the more significant geopolitical contest between the Soviet Union and the United States. The United States, as payback for Soviet support to the Communist Vietnamese, engaged in a covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. This covert war was detailed extensively in George Crile’sCharlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History” and Steve Coll’sGhost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001“. The CIA’s support for Islamic elements in Afghanistan would come back to haunt the nation first with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh”, who assisted in the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center. The 1993 event became a prelude to a shadowy war against the United States led by Osama Bin Laden leading up to the 9/11 attacks. This shadowy war included Al-Qaeda’s alleged role in the incident of Black Hawk Down in Somalia, the 1998 attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 attack against the USS Cole in the Port of Aden, Yemen. Despite these events, the U.S. security apparatus missed the clues about an attack on the homeland as detailed in “The 9/11 Investigations Report” and “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and The Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright (also been filmed as a mini-series).

The American response to 9/11 would be America’s longest war in Afghanistan; however, it would be its invasion of Iraq in 2003 that would expand the war on terrorism regionally and globally. The war in Iraq gave rise to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the murderous leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. His psychological war against the West through videotaped beheadings would later inspire the Islamic State. Additionally, his attempts to ignite a sectarian civil war through targeted bombings of Shia holy sites gave Iran and Shia militia groups, to include those led by Muqtada al-Sadr, the rationale to persecute the Sunni community. Around this time, Al-Qaeda affiliates would form elsewhere in Africa and Yemen. In 2006 Zarqawi and then Bin Laden in 2011 were both killed by U.S. special operations, but their extremist ideology lived on and would morph into an even more ideological radical organization as a result of the Syrian Civil War and the Shia Government in Iraq’s crackdown on its Sunni minority.

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and veterans of Al-Qaeda of Iraq reconstituted Al-Qaeda affiliate after the group’s defeat from the U.S. led counterterrorism campaign from 2006-2011. After the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, the Iraqi Government released large numbers of former Al-Qaeda members who proceeded to Syria to fight the Assad Regime. They became the core resistant elements fighting the Assad Regime and began imposing their will on the local Syrian population. Al-Baghdadi’s group’s extremist tactics led to their split with Al-Qaeda and the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State established its headquarters in the Syria city of Raqqah and began its infiltration of Iraq, leading to the capture of Mosul in 2014. The Islamic State’s rapid assault against the Iraqi Army led to its disintegration as it fled Mosul, Ramadi, and other major Iraqi cities. Their attacks against the Kurds in Iraq and Syria and Baghdad led to an unusual situation where both the United States and Iran responded militarily to defeat their common enemy. In late 2014, Al-Baghdadi, taking a page from Juhayman al-Otaybi in 1979, declared himself the Mahdi in Mosul.

From 2014 to the present, the United States led a global coalition to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Simultaneously, Iran led its informal coalition by supporting Iraqi Shia militia, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Shia foreign fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan. This unusual effort by two coalitions all led to the physical collapse of the Islamic State. During this period, the United States, European Nations, and even Iran suffered from directed or inspired attacks by the Islamic State. The Islamic State’s affiliates in Yemen and Afghanistan remain active and contribute to the instability in both countries. Additionally, it continues to inspire others to continue the fight as seen by the recent Easter attacks against Christians in Sri Lanka.

The threat to the Assad Regime by Islamic State and other Sunni extremist groups in Syria provided Russia the pretext needed to militarily intervene to defend its client state and critical interests in the region just as it had in 1979.

Shock #3 – The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Soviet objective was to support its communist client Government that had assumed power in 1978 but had little support from most Afghans. From 1979-1989, the Soviet Union engaged in a bloody insurgency against the Afghan Mujahedeen chronicled in “The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan“. As described above, Islamic extremists from the Middle East joined the war against the Soviets that led to the rise of Al-Qaeda. These extremist elements were indirectly supported by America’s covert war that included the transfer of stinger missiles to the Mujahedeen that had a devasting effect on Soviet forces. The financial drain of the war and human toll would contribute to the collapse of the Soviet Union two years after its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan, 1988.

Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan, 1988.

The eventual withdrawal of Soviet and later Russian support for the Afghan Government led to an Afghan Civil War that saw the rise of the Taliban. In the 1990s, the Taliban went on a campaign to purge its enemies to include the Shia communities within Afghanistan. In 1998, the Taliban killed nine Iranian diplomats which almost provoked a war with Iran. During the same period, the Taliban was providing sanctuary to Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network when he was forced to flee Sudan after the 1998 Africa Embassy bombings. From 1998-2001, Bin Laden plotted further attacks the West culminating with the 9/11 attacks.

After 9/11, an unlikely trio formed when the Russians and the Iranians provided the U.S. aid to enter Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban according to “America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies” by George Friedman. Eighteen years later, this unlikely trio would be on opposing ends as Iran and Russia began to support the Taliban as the Islamic State Khorasan threaten the stability in Afghanistan and the U.S. and NATO contemplated withdrawal. Like the situation in Syria, the Russians feared that an embolden Islamic State in Afghanistan would spread into the Central Asian States and then into Russia’s Islamic population across its southern peripheral areas to include Chechnya.

The Soviet war in Afghanistan led to the collapse of the Soviet Union which Russian President Vladimir Putin said during its annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation 2005 was “a major geopolitical disaster of the century”. According to Putin, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to NATO’s expansion right to up to Russia’s doorstep, military intervention in the Balkans, and America’s war of the Middle East since 1991. Since coming to power, Putin’s objective has been to re-establish Russia as a great power and push back against the United States and the West. Russia’s actions included the 2008 Russia-Georgia War and its recent campaign to annex Crimea and support separatist in Ukraine since 2014. The 2011 NATO intervention in Libya affirmed Putin’s suspicion of the West that later drove his decision calculus to intervene in 2015 to support the Assad Regime militarily. For Putin, the annexation of Crimea, intervention in Syria, and support for the Taliban are about expanding Russia’s sphere of influence driven by its historical fear of strategic encirclement and invasion by its enemies. This fear today, though misunderstood, is no different from the Soviet view during the Cold War. As Benn Steil wrote in his book “The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War” that for the West “this view presumed that the problem of the Cold War had been driven by Marx, and not Mackinder. Ideology and not geography.” For Putin, it is about geography and the vulnerability it represents.

Al-Sisi positively glows with happiness as Putin presents him his gift during his visit in Cairo in February 2015: a Kalashnikov.

Al-Sisi positively glows with happiness as Putin presents him his gift during his visit in Cairo in February 2015: a Kalashnikov.

It is this logic that drives Russia’s tacit support for Iran in Syria, support for the JCPOA, and Russia’s efforts to disrupts the United State’s actions in the UN Security Council. For Russia, Iran is a useful tool to balance the United States in the Middle East. Russia is also expanding its relations with other nations in the Middle East to include Egypt and both Saudi Arabia and Turkey, whom both expressed interest in purchasing the Russia S-400 Air Defense System.

Forty years ago, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan caused the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent 18-year American war in Afghanistan has provided Russia the space needed to rebuild itself and project its influence in the Middle East again.

The aftermath of the Triple Shocks
The Iranian Revolution and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan coupled with threats to the energy supplies of the Middle East led to the Carter Doctrine where U.S.-President Jimmy Carter stated that the United States would use force to prevent a hostile power from controlling the Persian Gulf. These two events and the ongoing threat of terrorism influenced the creation of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. In 1991, the United States employed the Carter Doctrine to expel Iraq from Kuwait and to ensure Iraqi did not threaten Saudi Arabia and its oil fields. Finally, the triple shocks of 1979 continue to influence U.S. national security strategy. In the 2018 National Security Strategy, it clearly articulates the three core interest in the Middle East is a region that is “not a safe haven or breeding ground for jihadist terrorists, not dominated by any power hostile to the United States, and that contributes to a stable global energy market.” (p. 48). The continued focus of the United States to counter the threat of terrorism, countering Iran’s malign influence, and compete against the growing Russian and Chinese influence in the Middle East are linked to triple shocks of 1979 continue to reverberate today and for the foreseeable future.

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Was kostet ein Kampfflugzeug?

Französischer Kampfjet Rafale am 21.Mai bei den Flugtests in Payerne.

Französischer Kampfjet Rafale am 21.Mai bei den Flugtests in Payerne.

Am 22. Mai 2019 hatte Adrian Köppel in einem Kommentar eine gute Frage zu den Kosten der in der Evaluierung stehenden Kampfflugzeugen gestellt, welche hier in diesem kurzen Beitrag etwas umfangreicher abgehandelt werden sollen. Im Bundesratsbeschluss von Mitte Mai 2019 wird festgehalten, dass das maximale Investitionsvolumen für die neuen Kampfflugzeuge 6 Milliarden Franken nicht übersteigen soll. Dieser finanzieller Höchstbetrag wurde in der Botschaft und im Entwurf des Planungsbeschlusses des Bundesrates Ende Juni noch einmal bestätigt. Bei einem Stückpreis von 150-200 Millionen Franken wird die zukünftige Flottengrösse wahrscheinlich 30 bis 40 Kampfflugzeuge umfassen. Zum Vergleich: Im “Konzept zur langfristigen Sicherung des Luftraumes” vom 27. August 2014 wird festgehalten, dass “[f]ür länger anhaltenden Luftpolizeidienst mit 2-4 Flugzeugen permanent in der Luft [..] 5 Staffeln mit insgesamt 55 Kampfflugzeugen nötig” wären. “Luftverteidigung ist noch anspruchsvoller”(S. 23).

Wir gehen von einem durchschnittlichen Preis eines Kampfflugzeugs inklusive Ausrüstung, Bewaffnung und Logistikpaketen von rund 200 Millionen Franken aus. — Bundesrat Guy Parmelin in Heidi Gmür und Christof Forster, “Wir Haben 8 Millionen Flugzeugexperten“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 10 November 2017.

Im Preis inbegriffen ist die gesamte Bewaffnung und Logistik (Grundstock an Ersatzteilen), die einsatzspezifische Ausrüstung (zum Beispiel Sensoren, Selbstschutzsysteme, Zusatztanks), die Ausbildungs- und Auswertungssysteme (zum Beispiel Simulatoren) und die Integration in die bestehenden Führungssysteme (Schweizerischer Bundesrat, “Botschaft zu einem Planungsbeschluss über die Beschaffung neuer Kampfflugzeuge“, 26.06.2019, S.25). Das Beispiel der Beschaffung der F/A-18 C/D zeigt zudem, wie diese zusätzlichen Kosten den Endpreis nachhaltig beeinflussen: Hier machte das eigentliche Kampfflugzeug (“Fly-away-Preis“) nur rund 60% des Endpreises aus (siehe Tabelle unten rechts; Quelle: Christoph Vollenweider und Hans-Peter Hulliger, “Herausforderung neues Kampfflugzeug für die Schweiz“, Stiftung Lilienberg, Mai 2017, S. 7). Das ist auch der Grund, dass Christian Catrina, der Delegierte der Verteidigungsministerin für das Beschaffungsvorhaben Air 2030 an einer Pressekonferenz sagte, dass die Kosten der Beschaffung im Ausland nicht als Vergleich herangezogen werden können. Es sei meist nicht bekannt, was alles in den ausländischen Beschaffungspaketen enthalten sei (VBS, “Air2030: Start der Flug- und Bodenerprobungen für ein neues Kampfflugzeug in Payerne“, 08.04.2019, ab 49′).

Natürlich hat Catrina bei seiner Aussage recht: Ein direkter Vergleich ist kaum möglich. Es ist jedoch auch kein Geheimnis — Catrina deutet es sogar selber an — dass es nicht im Interesse der Beschaffer liegt, wenn Presse und Öffentlichkeit solche Vergleiche anstellen. Ist das Kampfflugzeug im Ausland billiger wird den schweizerischen Beschaffern eine unfähige Verhandlungstaktik vorgeworfen, ist das Kampfflugzeug im Ausland teurer, wird den Beschaffern Unehrlichkeit vorgeworfen und vor einem zu hohen Endpreis gewarnt. Wir wollen also auf solche Kritik und auf direkte Vergleiche verzichten, sind jedoch trotzdem der Meinung, dass indirekte Vergleiche über ungefähre Grössenordnungen und über die realistisch beschaffbaren Stückzahlen Aufschluss geben können. So hatte beispielsweise beim Tiger Teilersatz anfangs Januar 2008 bereits frühzeitig gewarnt, dass das vorgesehene Beschaffungsbudget von 2,2 Milliarden Franken eher für 22, als für 33 Ersatzkamfflugzeuge reichen würde. Schlussendlich wurde dann im abgelehnten Fonds zur Beschaffung des Kampfflugzeugs Gripen E 3,126 Milliarden Franken für 22 Kampfflugzeuge beantragt (rund 142 Millionen Franken pro Stück). Die damaligen Mitbewerber waren rund eine Milliarde teurer (rund 188 Millionen Franken pro Stück). Ebenfalls interessant: Werden die ungefähr projektierten Beschaffungskosten der Schweiz beim Tiger Teilersatz mit den ausländischen Beschaffungskosten verglichen, so kann festgestellt werden, dass das schweizerische Beschaffungspaket im Vergleich zum Ausland eher teurer ausfällt (wieviel mehr ist jedoch schwierig zu eruieren).

Schauen wir die Beschaffungskosten der möglichen Kandidaten für ein neues Kampfflugzeug etwas näher an (zum Vergleich inklusive Gripen E):

Zwei der Kandidaten für den neuen Schweizer Kampfjet: Der Eurofighter Typhoon (links) und die Rafale.

Zwei der Kandidaten für den neuen Schweizer Kampfjet: Der Eurofighter Typhoon (links) und die Rafale.

Eurofighter Typhoon (Tranche 3): Basierend auf dem Tiger Teilersatz kann für die Schweiz ein ungefährer damaliger Stückpreis von rund 188 Millionen Franken geschätzt werden. Mitte September 2018 hat Katar 24 Eurofighter zu einem Preis von rund 6,6 Milliarden Franken in Auftrag gegeben (Stückpreis: 275 Millionen Franken). Der Preis ist deshalb relativ hoch angesetzt, weil das Beschaffungspaket zusätzlich neun Hawk T2 Trainingsflugzeuge, ein Basistraining der Piloten und einen gewissen Betriebsunterhalt umfasst. Zwischen 2020 und 2023 soll die Lieferung von 22 einsitzigen und sechs doppelsitzigen Eurofightern an Kuwait erfolgen, welche im April 2016 für 8,8 Milliarden Franken vereinbart wurde (Stückpreis: 314 Millionen Franken). Das Beschaffungspaket umfasst den Bau notwendiger Infrastruktur auf dem Al-Salem Luftwaffenstützpunkt, Logistik, operationelle Unterstützung, Unterhalt für drei Jahre und das Training der Piloten sowie der Bodencrew durch die italienischen Streitkräften. Anfangs 2019 wurde Oman die letzten beiden Kampfflugzeuge einer 12 Stück umfassenden und 2012 in Auftrag gegebene Beschaffung ausgeliefert, welche rund 4,6 Milliarden Franken umfasste (Stückpreis: 383 Millionen Franken; neun Einsitzer, drei Zweisitzer und inklusive acht Hawk Mk 166 Trainingsflugzeuge). Sowohl die Zweisitzervarianten, wie auch die zusätzlichen Trainingsflugzeugen drücken auch hier die Kosten des Beschaffungspakets in die Höhe. Sollte die Schweiz für den Eurofighter eine Offerte mit einem Stückpreis von 188-200 Millionen Franken erhalten, so würde die Flottengrösse bloss rund 30-32 Stück umfassen.

F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet (Block III): Für rund 4 Milliarden Franken aktualisierte Boeing 78 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet der U.S. Navy von Block II zu Block III. Mit dem Verkauf neuer F/A-18 E/F war Boeing bis jetzt jedoch nicht ausserordentlich erfolgreich. Immerhin gab Kuwait Ende Juni 2018 22 einsitzige F/A-18 E und sechs zweisitzige F/A-18 F für rund 1,5 Milliarden Franken in Auftrag (Stückpreis: rund 54 Millionen Franken). Beim angegebenen Preis ist jedoch Vorsicht angebracht, da es sich dabei vermutlich um den “Fly-away-Preis” handelt. Der tatsächliche Stückpreis des F/A-18E liegt wahrscheinlich eher mindestens zwischen 90 und 100 Millionen Franken (je nach Beschaffungspaket eher noch höher). Im Mai 2013 hatte die australische Regierung bekannt gegeben, 12 Boeing EA-18G Growler für 1,5 Milliarden Franken kaufen zu wollen (Stückpreis: 125 Millionen Franken). Beim EA-18G Growler handelt es sich um eine Spezialanfertigung des zweisitzigen F/A-18F zur elektronischen Luftkriegsführung. Bis jetzt ist Australien die einzige Nation, welche den EA-18G Growler von den USA importieren konnte. Bis zum Juli 2017 wurden alle 12 Exemplare an Australien ausgeliefert. Sollte die Schweiz die F/A-18 E Super Hornet mit einem Stückpreis von unter 150 Millionen Franken beschaffen können, dann würde die Flottengrösse über 40 Kampfflugzeugen liegen.

Schwer beladen ist die Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet 16954/250 am 25. April in Payerne eingetroffen.

Schwer beladen ist die Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet 16954/250 am 25. April in Payerne eingetroffen.

Rafale: Die Rafale gilt neben dem Eurofighter als einer der teureren Kampfjets. So hatte sich beispielsweise Belgien Ende Oktober 2018 unter anderem aus Kostengründen gegen die Rafale und für 34 F-35A Lightning II entschieden. Nach langen und intensiven Bemühungen hatte schliesslich Ägypten 24 Rafale für rund 5,5 Milliarden Franken in Auftrag gegeben (vermutlich 16 Doppel- und 8 Einfachsitzer). In diesem Beschaffungspaket sind jedoch noch eine FREMM Fregatte (kostet runde 500 Millionen Franken) und eine grössere Anzahl von Lenkwaffen enthalten. Der Stückpreis der Rafale liegt damit bei rund 208 Millionen Franken. Kurz darauf hatte auch Katar 24 Rafale in Auftrag gegeben, jedoch zu einem rund 1 Milliarde Franken höheren Preisschild (Stückpreis: rund 270 Millionen Franken; später hatte Katar nochmals 12 Maschinen nachbestellt). Das Beschaffungspaket umfasst ebenfalls Lenkwaffen, die Ausbildung von 36 Piloten und 100 Technikern durch die französischen Streitkräfte. Die ersten fünf Rafale wurde anfangs Juni an Katar ausgeliefert. Darüberhinaus verfügt Katar über eine Option noch einmal 36 Maschinen zu kaufen (Dassault Aviation, “2018 Annual Report“, Mai 2019, S 43). Im September 2016 unterzeichneten die Verteidigungsminister Frankreichs und Indiens, Jean-Yves Le Drian und Manohar Parrikar einen Kaufvertrag über 36 Rafale für rund 8 Milliarden Euro (Stückpreis: 220 Millionen Franken; 28 Einfach- und 8 Doppelsitzer). Der “Fly-away-Preis” des Rafale soll nur rund 3,7 Milliarden Franken (rund 107 Millionen pro Stück) betragen; die zusätzlichen Kosten fallen auf das Logistikpaket (rund 387 Millionen Franken), die mitgelieferten Lenkwaffen (rund 780 Millionen), Anpassungsarbeiten (rund 1,9 Milliarden Franken), für Ersatzteile, Hangars und zwei Unterhaltswerkstätten in Ost- und Nordindien (zusammengefasst für rund 2 Milliarden Franken) sowie eine zugesicherte Einsatzverfügbarkeit von 75% für die ersten 5 Jahre (Rahul Bedi, “India signs deal with France for 36 Rafale fighters”, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, Jane’s Information Group, vol 53, issue 39, 28 September 2016, S. 5). Wie der Eurofighter, könnte auch die Rafale für die Schweiz in einem Preissegment zwischen 188-200 Millionen Franken liegen, was zu einer Flottengrösse von 30-32 Kampfflugzeugen führen würde.

F-35A: Vom F-35 existieren drei Varianten, wobei sich die Schweiz für die konventionelle Variante, den F-35A interessiert. Dies ist auch gleichzeitig die günstigste der drei Varianten. Lockheed Martin gibt als “Fly-away-Preis” einen Betrag von $89,2 million (rund 90 Millionen Franken) an. Wegen den positiven Skaleneffekten und der US-amerikanischen Exportförderung ist davon auszugehen, dass ein realistisches Angebot bei 80 Millionen Franken (“Fly-away-Preis”) liegen könnte. Ende Oktober 2018 entschied Belgien seine 54 F-16 durch 34 F-35A zu ersetzen, wobei ein ausschlaggebender Faktor für den F-35A und gegen den Eurofighter bzw die Rafale die günstigeren Beschaffungskosten waren (Stückpreis: rund 132 Millionen Franken). Im Beschaffungspaket enthhalten sind neben den Kampfflugzeugen, die Ausbildung der Piloten, Hangars und die Instandhaltung bis 2030. Im Vergleich könnte das von der Schweiz verlangte Beschaffungspaket um die 150 Millionen Franken pro Stück liegen, was zwar wahrscheinlich teurer als der F/A-18 E Super Hornet sein wird, technologisch jedoch den Zugang zu einer anderen Liga eröffnen könnte. Bei einem solchen Stückpreis, könnte die Flottengrösse rund 40 Kampfflugzeuge umfassen. Eine interessante Frage ist jedoch, ob die Betriebskosten des F-35A höher als bei den Konkurrenten ausfallen wird. Gemäss dem Pentagon soll die Flugstunde zwischen 28’000 und 29’000 Franken kosten, was ungefähr den Betriebskosten des F/A-18 C/D liegt (29’500 Franken in 2011; Schweizer Bundesrat, “Kampfjets: Betriebskosten Und Luftverschmutzung“, Schweizer Parlament, 13.02.2013).

Gripen E: Der Gripen E steht zwar seit Mitte Juni nicht mehr in der Evaluierung (siehe hier), da es sich jedoch wahrscheinlich für die Beschaffung am günstigste in Frage kommenden Kampfflugzeugen handelte, wollen wir den Gripen E trotzdem näher betrachten. Im September 2015 entschied sich Brasilien für die Beschaffung von 36 Gripen zu einem Preis von rund 4,6 Milliarden Franken (Stückpreis: 127 Millionen Franken), welche ab diesem Jahr ausgeliefert werden sollen. Auch hier sprachen die Kosten gegen die Rafale. Beim Tiger Teilersatz offerierte Saab der Schweiz 22 Gripen E für 3,126 Milliarden Franken (Stückpreis: 142 Millionen Franken). Es kann davon ausgegangen werden, dass der Gripen E auch bei der Beschaffug des neuen Kampfflugzeuges einen Stückpreis unterhalb der 150 Millionen Franken Grenze offerieren hätte können, und damit mit der F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet sowie dem F-35 zu den günstigstens Kampfflugzeugen gehört hätte. Dies gilt auch bezüglich den Betriebskosten, welche im Vergleich zu den restlichen Kampfflugzeugen am tiefsten liegen könnten (vermutlich entgegen dem Bericht von Jane’s Defence Weekly jedoch eher bei 10’000 Franken pro Flugstunde liegen wird). Beim Gripen E hätte die Flottengrösse wohl bei rund 40 Kampfflugzeugen gelegen.

Die Beschaffungskosten eines Kampfflugzeuges sind massgeblich von dem zusammengeschnürten Beschaffungspaket abhängig, wobei der “Fly-away-Preis” am Beispiel der F/A-18 C/D nur grad um die 60% ausmachen können. Im Falle der Schweiz ist davon auszugehen, dass das Beschaffungspaket im Vergleich zu ausländischen Beschaffungen eher teurer ausfallen wird. Auch wenn ein direkter Vergleich mit ausländischen Beschaffungsvorhaben nicht möglich ist, kann ein indirekter Vergleich Aufschluss über ungefähre Grössenordnungen und über die realistisch beschaffbaren Stückzahlen geben.

Die günstigste Variante könnte nach Ausschluss des Gripen E die F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet darstellen (bis jetzt wurden 446 Einsitzer und 190 Zweisitzer produziert, welche überwiegend bei der U.S. Navy im Einsatz stehen). Die F-35A könnte jedoch in einem ähnlichen Preissegment liegen, da hier insbesondere die hohen Produktionszahlen zu Skaleneffekte führen. Nicht nur würde die Schweizer Luftwaffe einen bedeutend moderneren Kampfjet erhalten, sondern die weite Verbreitung und die hohen Stückzahlen (womöglich über 3’000) garantieren auch eine langandauernde Weiterentwicklung, Aufrüstung und Versorgung mit Ersatzteilen. Trotzdem stellen sich beim F-35A auch Fragen inwieweit die Systemkomponenten offen einsehbar oder als “Black Boxes” integriert werden (siehe dazu auch Roger Näbig, “F-35: Hightech Kampfjet oder 1,5 Billionen US$ Desaster?“,, 16.09.2018). Im Vergleich zum F-35 ist die F-16 Block 70/72 (auch bekannt unter der Bezeichnung F-16V “Viper”) momentan zahlenmässig ein Nischenprodukt (berücksichtigt sind nur Neuanschaffungen, keine Erneuerungsprogramme — siehe dazu mein Kommentar weiter unten): Die Slovakei kauft 16 Stück für rund 1,8 Milliarden Franken, Bahrain die selbe Anzahl für rund 1,1 Milliarden Franken, Taiwan kauft 66 Stück für rund 8 Milliarden Franken und Marokko 25 Stück (mit einem massiven Zusatzpaket) für rund 3,8 Milliarden Franken. Ausserdem ist die F-16 Block 70/72 nicht Bestandteil der momentanen Evaluierung.

Posted in Armed Forces, Switzerland | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Third Egyptian Wing Loong Deployment Located

Maxar imagery acquired in October 2017.

Satellite imagery acquired by Maxar reveals that Egypt has deployed the Wing Loong I unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to Dakhla airport near Mut, New Valley Governorate. Imagery first captured the UAV parked outside of a new hangar in October 2017. Dakhla is the third operational location with which the platform has been associated.

A review of imagery shows that the airfield was expanded to support the UAVs between 2015 – 2017. During that period, workers constructed a new parking ramp, four aircraft hangars, and a weapons storage area. Recent commercial imagery acquired in 2019 continues to show the UAVs operating from the airport.

The Wing Loong I, developed by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, is a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV. It’s powered by 100-hp ROTAX 914 push-propeller engine and is capable of carrying up to a 200-kg payload, including the 50-kg Blue Arrow-7 missile and other PGMs. In October 2018, Egypt released handheld video of the platform for the Air Force’s 45th anniversary where it appeared armed with the Blue Arrow-7.

Other locations the Wing Loong I have been spotted include Uthman air base near the Libyan border and Bir Gifgafa in the Sinai.

Egypt along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) remain the only operators in the region. Egypt reportedly ordered the more capable Wing Loong II in December 2018, joining Saudi Arabia as a future operator. The UAE already operates the Wing Loong II and has used the larger variant in the conflict in Yemen.

Posted in Drones, Egypt, Intelligence, Technology | 2 Comments

Zelensky and a Black Sea Brouhaha

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

The location of the Kerch Strait

The location of the Kerch Strait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Peace has meant for Deforestation in Colombia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rückzug der ukrainischen Truppen am 29. August 2014.

Rückzug der ukrainischen Truppen am 29. August 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press and Internet censorship in Turkey

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

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011 protests against internet censorship in Turkey.

2011 protests against internet censorship in Turkey.

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

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

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

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

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

Page views of the Turkish Wikipedia 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 , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 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 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. Finally, Louis Martin-Vézian provided with a comprehensive illustration of the last sixty years of Chinese tank design.

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, China, English, History, International, Sébastien Roblin | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments