Cartoon of the month: Green Warriors

Cartoon by Samuel Embleton, alias “Sarcasam” when drawing for the press. Sam is an Anglo-Swiss freelance illustrator and comic strip author. His work ranges from illustration for publishing to visual communication for companies and storyboarding for clients worldwide. He is well known within the Swiss armed forces for his work with the Department of Defence.

Environmental protection has long been a matter of course in the Swiss Armed Forces — sometimes also by unconventional methods (see the video below). This is not least because the exercises of the Swiss Armed Forces take place predominantly in Switzerland and that destruction of the landscape would, therefore, harm the image of the Swiss Armed Forces.

Nevertheless, the Swiss Armed Forces are also feeling the effects of the “Green Wave”, which is calling for environmental protection and measures to counter global warming. A parade of the Artillerie Abteilung 16 in Winterthur last Wednesday afternoon was interrupted by around 40 young activists, which is rather unusual for Switzerland. Whether they were actually climate activists or perhaps green members of the Group for a Switzerland without an Army is beyond our knowledge. In any case, they put a large (but ugly) banner with the message “Stop tanks, end wars, fight climate crisis” in the way of the tanks. After a few minutes, the manifestation was over again. The moderator of the parade took the disturbance lightly: “A few want to make use of their right of expression”.

The Swedish Armed Forces also take environmental protection seriously and write on the website:

The Swedish Parliament has adopted 16 national objectives relating to the environment – including areas such as air quality, acidification, and biodiversity – which are to be met by 2020. The government has tasked the Swedish Armed Forces to support these efforts. Consequently, our operations are characterised by respect for the environment, whether we are planning or conducting operations or exercises in Sweden or abroad.

Three objectives of the Swedish Armed Forces for ecologically sustainable development are:

  1. Reduced energy consumption
  2. Reduced proportion of non-recycled waste
  3. Environmental considerations for exercises and operations

Consequently, the Swedish Armed Forces publish every year a report that details their efforts in the environmental sphere and assesses the environmental impact of their operations. The next report for the year 2018 will probably be published in November — good things need time!

The situation is somewhat different with the US Armed Forces. Not least because of their size, the ecological footprint of the US Armed Forces is enormous. A study by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs showed that the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries. If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, sitting between Peru and Portugal.

Posted in Armed Forces, Cartoon, Climate Change, English, Humour, International, Samuel Embleton, Switzerland | Leave a comment

Qatar Constructs Airbase near Dukhan

Maxar Imagery acquired on 27JUN2019 shows Qatar’s new airbase.

Maxar Imagery acquired on 27JUN2019 shows Qatar’s new airbase.

Commercial satellite imagery shows the construction of Qatar’s new airbase located east of Dukhan on the peninsula’s western coast (coordinates 25.4723 N 51.0133 E). News reporting from 2018 suggests it will be called Tamim Airbase after Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the country’s ruler responsible for expanding Qatar’s air capabilities.

Imagery indicates the airbase will support two runways, each measuring 3.75 km in length. The first runway was completed by June 2019. At the time, Qatar released handheld photography of the Emiri Air Force receiving its first squadron of five Rafale at the airbase. The Rafale have subsequently relocated to al-Udeid while construction activity continues.

As of 01 October 2019, eight aircraft shelters have been erected on the southernmost ramp and footprints of at least four maintenance hangars were visible. Additional ramps along the western parallel taxiway remain under construction as well as eight hardened weapon storage bunkers to the east. The second runway and additional link taxiways were still being paved in early October but were mostly complete by mid-October. Markings however were still not visible on the second runway. Further clearing and leveling activity was observed to the east and west of the two runways.

According to data collected by IHS Jane’s, Qatar is in the process of significantly expanding its capabilities by procuring various fixed- and rotor-wing combat and support aircraft including: 36 Boeing F-15QA (Qatar Advanced)-variant Eagles; 24 Eurofighter Typhoons; six BAE Systems Hawks; 48 Boeing AH-64E Apaches; 28 NHIndustries NH90s; four Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs; and four Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, Intelligence, Qatar | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Race to Find a New Marine Fuel

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 USS Texas, commissioned in 1914, was the last American warship built with coal-fired burners. In 1925, it was converted to burn fuel oil, drastically improving its efficiency and bringing about the end of the “age of steam”. Interestingly, just 60 years before the refit of the USS Texas, the US Congress commissioned a study in 1866 to determine whether fuel oil would be a viable replacement to coal. That study concluded that the only advantage to such a transition “…was a not very important reduction in the bulk and weight of fuel carried”. In hindsight, the switch from coal to fuel oil by navies the world over would seem inevitable, given the quite important reduction in bulk and weight, the lower carbon emissions profile of fuel oil, and numerous other factors. However, the early rejection of fuel oil is worth reflecting on, given new regulations introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) regarding sulphur oxide emissions.

In 2018, the IMO member states agreed to further restrict the sulphur content of bunker fuel from 3.5% to 0.5% by 1 January 2020. This might be accomplished through a variety of means, including the development of new blended fuels, which combine heavy fuel oil with a gas oil to lower the sulphur content, or the installation of “scrubbers”, which are exhaust gas cleaning systems. However, some countries, such as Japan, have begun to explore whether the time has come for new marine fuels – specifically liquefied natural gas (LNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or hydrogen. The technology is not that far off: Equinor, a Norwegian state-owned enterprise, is expected to launch its fleet of very large gas carriers (VLGCs) powered by LPG in late 2020.

Although US policymakers are reportedly considering ways of opting out of or otherwise disrupting the new IMO regulations, it is certainly worthwhile considering what capabilities the US Navy might gain from leaning into this technological change in the way that private industry has. LPG, LNG, and hydrogen would enjoy weight advantages over fuel oil, allowing for vessels to operate without refueling for even more extended periods of time or affording space aboard for other mission-relevant payloads. Since 2016, General Motors, the Office of Naval Research, and the US Naval Research Laboratory have partnered on a research project regarding unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) using hydrogen fuel cell technology (see photo on the right), with the higher efficiency of hydrogen intended to allow these vessels to conduct surveillance for vastly longer periods of time than would be possible with conventional fuels. LPG prices are also considerably lower than diesel or LNG in the US and elsewhere.

However, it is difficult to say how military vessels using such alternative fuels would perform in combat. In recent years, there have been several incidents involving LPG tankers that resulted in the loss of life. In January 2019, two Tanzanian-flagged LPG tankers collided in the Kerch Strait – a disputed waterway that links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov – leading to an explosion aboard one of the vessels that killed 11. At least one of the two tankers had reportedly failed safety inspections, with corrosion rife on her bulkheads and decks. In September 2018, a tanker truck transporting LPG exploded in Nigeria’s Nasarawa state, killing 35 people. LNG cannot burn in its cryogenic liquid form, which could give some momentum toward the use of LNG as an alternative marine fuel. However, the new interest in transitioning commercial power generation from coal to natural gas could drive LNG prices globally to levels unattractive to most militaries. The safety concerns presented by LPG and by hydrogen could, therefore, become an obstacle to their adoption by naval forces until designs can be presented, which demonstrate the survivability of vessels powered by such fuels.

Evidently, the new IMO regulations present a challenge to the US Navy and other naval forces around the world. Ports, such as Los Angeles and Long Beach, have introduced Clean Air Action Plans (CAAPs), intended to incentivize ships docking at their facilities to lower their emissions. In the near future, such ports might refuse vessels that do not comply with their emissions requirements. This would certainly constrain American power projection, were US Navy vessels to be prevented from accessing strategic ports due to the Navy’s continued use of heavy fuel oil. Unlike in 1866, the US Navy cannot afford to wait another 60 years before making the jump to a new fuel.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, Paul Pryce, Sea Powers | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The latest conflict afflicting northeast Syria

by Paul Iddon

In the space of a mere week, northeast Syria has once again descended into conflict with various powers scrambling to achieve different objectives. This was precipitated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to green-light a Turkish attack on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that presently control northeast and east of Syria.

Overnight, from the 14th to th 15th of October, Syrian soldiers have moved into Manbij, Hasakah and Qamishli and established checkpoints towards the M4 Highway (Source and map:

Overnight, from the 14th to th 15th of October, Syrian soldiers have moved into Manbij, Hasakah and Qamishli and established checkpoints towards the M4 Highway (Source and map: “US Out, Assad In: Syrian Army to Enter Northern Syria“, T-Intelligence, 14.10.2019).

Since Trump green-lighted the Turkish invasion by withdrawing a small number of U.S. troops from the Syrian border – where they were monitoring a “safe zone” established between Turkey and the SDF by the U.S. in recent weeks to prevent any war – following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on Oct. 6, Turkey began attacking northeast Syria, on Oct. 9.

As part of its Operation Peace Spring, Turkey bombed several cities and towns near the border and used its Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA), also known as the Syrian National Army, militia proxies to launch a ground incursion against the SDF into the Arab-majority Tal Abyad area, which sits between northeast Syria’s two Syrian Kurdish regions, Kobane and Jazira. At least 160,000 civilians have been displaced to date, according to the United Nations. The TFSA has killed unarmed civilians, executed Kurdish SDF fighters, and even ambushed and murdered Hevrin Khalaf, a female politician. These are actions which “almost certainly constitute a war crime, under international law“.

Manbij, Syria, last year (Photo: Mauricio Lima).” width=”360″ height=”240″ /> American Special Forces worked closely with Kurdish troops to fight the Islamic State in Manbij, Syria, last year (Photo: Mauricio Lima).

The SDF, despite being hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered, has so far seemingly put up a formidable fight on the ground. On Oct. 15, for example, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the group launched a counterattack against Turkey and the TFSA in Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain). It went on to note that the SDF is successfully using “fortifications, tunnel networks and a continuous supply of reinforcements” to combat Turkey’s incursion.

U.S. troops who had long trained the SDF and fought alongside them against the Islamic State (ISIS) have told U.S. media how “ashamed” they are of the withdrawal decision and their inability to help their allies, calling the decision a “betrayal” of the U.S. ally. Kurds also feel embittered by Trump’s decision, especially since the “safe zone” arrangement they had agreed to compelled them to destroy their defensive fortifications near the Turkish border and withdraw their heavy weapons. The SDF did both of these things in good faith under the belief that it would enable the U.S. to dissuade Turkey from launching any attack.

U.S. troops came under artillery fire from Turkish forces on Oct. 11. According to Navy Captain Brook DeWalt, “[t]he explosion occurred within a few hundred meters of a location in an area known by the Turks to have US forces present”. This raises questions about whether Turkey is trying to push the remaining U.S. troops farther from the border.

Then, on Oct. 15, U.S. F-15 jet fighters and Apache helicopter gunships were sent over northeast Syria to warn off TFSA fighters that came close to U.S. forces on the ground. One U.S. official said that the TFSA had “violated a standing agreement with the U.S. not to get close enough to threaten U.S. troops”. One Apache gunship even hovered mere feet off the ground to deter the TFSA fighters.

The destructive Turkish assault has, predictably, given ISIS an opportunity to exploit the chaos so it can regroup and reorganize. The group’s territorial caliphate was destroyed last March following the SDF’s capture of its very last redoubt, the Syrian town of Al-Baghuz Fawqani.

The SDF captured tens-of-thousands of ISIS suspects and have detained them in camps and prisons across northeast Syria. Countries from where ISIS foreign fighters originated, for the most part, refused to repatriate them and put them on trial, so the SDF kept them detained.

One of the two detained French women who fled the Islamic State group's last pocket in Syria walks with her child at al-Hol camp on February 17, 2019. (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

One of the two detained French women who fled the Islamic State group’s last pocket in Syria walks with her child at al-Hol camp on February 17, 2019. (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

In Al-Hol camp, there are about 70,000 people, thousands of them ISIS militants. In August, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham went so far as to say that the camp “is quickly becoming a mini-caliphate and a fertile recruiting ground for ISIS”. Upon the onset of the Turkish invasion, the SDF made clear that guarding Al-Hol and ISIS detention facilities is no longer a priority. ISIS has already proven capable of attacking SDF forces, and there have been simultaneous riots in Al-Hol.

Also, on Oct. 13, a Turkish bombing of Ain Issa gave hundreds of ISIS suspects the opportunity to escape from the detention camp. It is presently unclear where they have gone. U.S. officials confirmed to Foreign Policy that the TFSA “are deliberately releasing detainees affiliated with the Islamic State from unguarded prisons.”

Neighboring Iraq is sending troop reinforcements to its border out of fears that as many as 13,000 ISIS fighters could exploit Operation Peace Spring in order to use Syria as a launchpad once again to infiltrate other countries. It is also unclear if the TFSA plans to recruit these former ISIS prisoners into its ranks or let them simple escape and wage an insurgency of their own against the SDF further south (see also here: Patrick Cockburn, “Turkey Accused of Recruiting Ex-Isis Fighters to Attack Kurds in Syria“, The Independent, 07.02.2018).

The SDF has turned to Damascus for help halting the Turkish invasion. It denies that it is either handing over territory currently under its control or sacrificing its autonomy. It insists it is merely allowing in Syrian forces to defend the country’s border with Turkey. Syrian regime forces are reportedly going to be deployed in areas spanning from the Arab-majority Manbij region west of the Euphrates all across the vast northeastern Syrian border from the east bank of the Euphrates to the Iraqi border. They will not, however, be deployed to the Tal Abyad and Sari Kani areas where clashes are ongoing between the SDF and Turkish forces.

On Oct. 14, SDF commander-in-chief General Mazloum Abdi briefed Trump in a phone call about the situation on the ground in northeast Syria and expressed his concerns about Kobane being attacked. Shortly after, Trump talked with Erdogan and “received a firm commitment” that Turkey would not attack that city, according to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. However, on Oct. 15, an unconfirmed report stated that TFSA forces were attacking Kobane.

Additionally, on Oct. 15, Russia released a statement in which it said that its military police are deployed in Manbij and are patrolling “along the lines of contact between the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey” and that the Russian military is also “interacting” with Turkey. This indicates that Moscow is taking up the role of deconflicting Manbij mere hours after the U.S. troops – which previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey as part of the so-called Manbij Roadmap – vacated the area.

A short video (see below) from Russia Today aptly signified the rapid changes that are presently transpiring in northeast Syria. It showed U.S. military vehicles leaving in one direction and Syrian regime forces passing by them on the road going in the other way on Oct. 14 — a clear indicator of the transfer of power that is currently taking place in this region.

It is unclear if the deployment of Syrian regime forces will be enough to prevent Turkey from capturing significant swathes of northeast Syria from the SDF. After all, when Turkey invaded the northwest Kurdish enclave of Afrin in early 2018, the Kurds also called on Damascus to defend the border and halt the invasion. While pro-regime militiamen were deployed to Afrin, they proved utterly incapable of preventing Turkey and the TFSA from conquering and occupying that region.

That said, on that occasion. Russia withdrew military police it had deployed in Afrin and kept the airspace open for the Turkish Air Force, effectively giving Ankara a green-light to invade. After Ankara captured Afrin city, on Mar. 18, Russia briefly closed the airspace, allowing several Kurdish fighters to escape to the neighboring Tal Rifaat area, where they have remained ever since. Russia can similarly limit how far this Turkish operation goes if it chooses to close the airspace over northeast Syria and warn Ankara from advancing any further.

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) fighting in Was al-Ain on Oct. 13 (Photo: Nazeer Al-Khaib).

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) fighting in Was al-Ain on Oct. 13 (Photo: Nazeer Al-Khaib).

In addition to its deployment to Manbij, Russia has stressed that it will not accept any confrontation between Turkish and Syrian forces. “This would simply be unacceptable… and therefore we will not allow it, of course,” said Russia’s presidential envoy to Syria Aleksandr Lavrentyev on Oct. 15. He also declared that the Turkish military can go no further than 5-10 kilometers into Syrian territory and that Moscow does not approve of Operation Peace Spring. Consequently, if Turkey goes further than that Russia will likely take steps to pressure Turkey to withdraw.

Whatever the case ultimately proves to be in the next couple of days and weeks, it is already clear that the situation in northeast Syria is rapidly changing, and the region may well remain a conflict zone for the foreseeable future.

Posted in English, Paul Iddon, Security Policy, Syria | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rückblick: Krieg in der Ostukraine 2014/15 – Die russo-seperatistische Winteroffensive 2015 (Teil 3/4)

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. Wochenlange, intensive Kämpfe hatten die Frontlinien hin und her verschoben. Im September 2014 willigten die Konfliktparteien dem in Minsk ausgehandelten Waffenstillstand zu. Dabei dürfte der beidseitige Bedarf nach einer Kampfpause für die ausgepowerten eigenen Truppen eine grössere Rolle gespielt haben, als der erreichte Frontverlauf. Kiew war nicht bereit, seine beiden östlichsten Provinzen aufzugeben und die Seperatisten wollten ihr Gebiet mit Hilfe der russischen Bataillone in einer nächsten Offensive mindestens abrunden. Dazu mussten sie den Flughafen Donezk einnehmen und den ukrainischen Frontvorsprung bei Debalzeve eindrücken. Oder hatte die Offensive gar noch weiter gesteckte Ziele?

The main terminal of Donetsk International Airport hit by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces on October 8, 2014.

The main terminal of Donetsk International Airport hit by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces on October 8, 2014.

Die Flughäfen Donezk und Luhansk
Am 5. September 2014 war das Minsker Abkommen von der Ukraine, dem “Föderativen Staat Neurussland“, Russland und von der OSZE unterzeichnet worden. Im ersten von zwölf Punkten forderte es die unverzügliche beiderseitige Unterbrechung der Anwendung von Waffengewalt. Davon war an einigen Frontabschnitten jedoch nichts zu spüren. Den wochenlang umkämpften Flughafen bei Luhansk mussten die ukrainischen Verteidiger bereits am 1. September 2014 räumen.

Pufferzone, die durch das Minsker Protokoll während des Donbass-Krieges festgelegt wurde.

Pufferzone, die durch das Minsker Protokoll während des Donbass-Krieges festgelegt wurde.

Die schweren Kämpfe um den Flughafen Donezk hielten ungeachtet des Waffenstillstandes an. Dieser Internationale Flughafen war erst im Mai 2012 für die Fussballeuropameisterschaft fertiggestellt worden. Am 25./26. Mai 2014 hatten die Separatisten den Flughafen zum ersten Mal besetzt, wurden jedoch tags darauf wieder vertrieben. Ende September/Anfang Oktober unternahmen sie einen weiteren, erfolglosen Einnahmeversuch.

Der Donezker Flughafen fiel endgültig im Zuge der Winteroffensive im Januar 2015. Nach dem Scheitern ihrer Gegenangriffe räumten die Ukraine den Verlust am 21. Januar ein. Die 240-tägige Verteidigung des Donezker Flughafens wird im (wenig informativen) ukrainischen Film “Cyborgs” heroisiert. Doch was durchbrach diesen zähen Widerstand? Bei den Flughäfen von Luhansk und Donezk soll der Beschuss durch russische Mörserselbstfahrlafetten (Typ 2S4 Tyulpan) die Entscheidung herbeigeführt haben. Die 130kg schweren Geschosse vom Kaliber 240mm reissen Krater von 10m Durchmesser. Angesichts solcher Feuerkraft erübrigen sich nähere Ausführungen darüber, wie genau den russisch-separatistischen Angreifern die Einnahme der Flughäfen gelang.

Ukrainians reported significant Russian use of unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance and targeting purposes. The Russians combined this capability with MLRS and artillery with devastating effect; one Ukrainian officer stated that 70 percent of Ukrainian casualties were from MLRS and artillery strikes. Ukrainian military officers said that they have no capabilities to jam or down Russian UAVs. — Ivo H. Daalder et al., “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do“,Atlantic Council, 2015, S. 12.

Die Kräfteverhältnisse Ende 2014/Anfang 2015
Beidseitig wurden die Kräfte im ostukrainischen Donbass im Januar 2015 auf 34’000 ukrainische Soldaten und 36’000 Separatisten geschätzt, darin integriert 8’500-10’000 reguläre russische Soldaten (8–10 Battalion Tactical Groups). Die Zahl der Kampfpanzer auf Separatistengebiet wurde auf mindestens 250, die Zahl der Schützenpanzer auf mindestens 800 geschätzt. Demgegenüber waren mehr als drei Viertel der Panzerabwehrwaffenbestände der Ukrainer über 20 Jahre alt bzw. zu rund 70% nicht mehr funktionstüchtig (Ivo H. Daalder et al., “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do“,Atlantic Council, 2015, S. 12). Kiew hatte seit Konfliktbeginn gut die Hälfte seiner eingesetzten Panzer verloren. Die ukrainische Luftwaffe griff seit Minsk nicht mehr in die Kämpfe ein – worauf im nächsten Teil näher eingegangen wird.

Die Ukrainer unternahmen grosse Anstrengungen, um seit Jahren abgestelltes Kriegsgerät aller Art wieder flott zu machen. Trotz hohem Eigenbedarf sollten die Waffenexporte hochgekurbelt werden. Gemäss dem Ukrainischen Präsidenten Petro Poroshenko sollte sein Land bis 2020 zu einem der fünf grössten Waffenexporteure der Welt werden (Nolan Peterson, “The Truth About the War in Ukraine“, The Daily Signal, 10.08.2017). Die schmerzhaftesten Ausrüstungsmängel der Ukrainer bestanden jedoch nicht bei den Waffensystemen, sondern bei den Logistikleistungen, wie beispielsweise bei der medizinischen Versorgung der Truppe. Freiwillige zivile Helfer und Crowdfunding-Aufrufe durch die Truppe sind Symptome eines Staates, dessen Leistungsfähigkeit in keinem Verhältnis zum Wehrwillen seiner Bürger steht. Seit September 2014 konnten die ukrainischen Sicherheitskräfte höchstens Kampferfahrung, jedoch kaum neue materiellen und personellen Kräfte sammeln. Die Gegenseite rüstete derweil zum Jahreswechsel unübersehbar mit schwerstem Gerät auf. Ebenso offensichtlich war das Hauptziel einer pro-russischen Winteroffensive: der Frontvorsprung der Ukrainer bei der Stadt Debalzeve. Inwiefern die Offensive weitere Ziele verfolgte (Durchbruch in bis zu sechs Richtungen, u.a. entlang des Schwarzen Meeres und in Richtungen West und Nordwest) ist bis heute umstritten und nicht Teil dieser Ausführungen (Karber, “The Russian Military Forum“, 49′).

Kampf um Debalzewe mitte Januar bis Mitte Februar 2015.

Kampf um Debalzewe mitte Januar bis Mitte Februar 2015.

Beidseitiger Aufmarsch für die Schlacht um Debalzeve
Debalzeve liegt mit seiner Bahnverladestation auf der Schienenverbindung zwischen Donezk und Luhansk. Die Kontrolle über Debalzeve war für Kiew gewissermassen das letzte verbliebene Druckmittel. Aber ein Frontvorsprung nützt am Ende immer der insgesamt stärkeren Seite. Die Behauptung des Debalzeve-Vorsprungs hatte demnach bis Mitte 2014 Sinn gemacht, solange die Ukrainer nur gegen militärisch unterlegene Separatisten kämpften. Gegenüber der in jeder Hinsicht, aber insbesondere an Artillerie überlegenen Russischen Armee wurde aus dem Pfand eine tödliche Falle. Weitere ukrainische Truppen in einen schmalen, rein passiv verteidigten Frontbogen heineinzudrücken war geradezu unverantwortlich. Angaben zu ihrer Stärke variieren von 2’500 bis 8’000, wobei die tiefere Zahl wohl dem entspricht, was permanent zuvorderst im Frontvorsprung postiert war. In Debalzeve sollen laut Karber die Brigaden 25, 30, 80, 128 und eine Luftlandebrigade (rotierend) zum Einsatz gekommen sein (vgl. Karber, “The Russian Military Forum“, 55′). Bei den Kräfteangaben gilt es zu bedenken: Ukrainische Bataillone wiesen Ende 2014 oftmals nur noch Kompaniestärke auf und es bestanden keine operativen Reserven mehr. Die russisch-separatistische Seite soll für die Einnahme des Debalzeve-Frontbogens über 15’000 Mann eingesetzt haben. Die Hauptlast hätten dabei die regulären Truppen der russischen Armee mit modernen Kampfpanzern (T-72B3 und T-90) getragen.

Kommunikationsisolation und Artillerievorbereitung
Am 28. Januar begann ein sechstägiges Artilleriebombardement auf die Ukrainer im Frontvorsprung. Deren Internet- und Mobilkommunikation war bereits seit dem 20. Januar unterbrochen. Parallel wurde versucht, die Mobiltelefone der von der Aussenwelt kommunikativ isolierten ukrainischen Soldaten gegen sie selbst einzusetzen:

[…] Keeping us cut off from the rest of the world in Debaltseve, the Russian-led terrorists increased the intensity of their attacks and disseminated disinformation about Ukrainian losses in our battalion. […] During daily attacks in January–February, the Russian-sponsored terrorists used portable cell transmitters to deliver fake and provocative text messages to our mobiles, in order to instigate anger or panic among our troops and destabilize order in our units. […] Indeed, the terrorists had been taking control of our cell phones for up to 5–10 minutes, in order to deliver their propaganda messages. Sure, the SMS texts were anonymous and false. And not one of us fled, not one of us left our positions. Many times our unit commanders banned the use of cell phones in the battle zone, but our servicemen’s wish to reach relatives was so strong that they often ignored the ban and tried to catch any signal as best they could. — Viktor Kovalenko, “Debaltseve Diary 2: No Mobile Communications”, Debaltseve Diary, 17.04.2015, nicht mehr öffentlich abrufbar.

Am 2. Februar wurden Kräfte vom “Anti-Terrorist Operation”-Hauptquartier in Kramatorsk in Richtung Debalzeve verlegt (Maxim Tucker, “Ukraine Throws Reinforcements at Debaltseve, Separatists Vow to Escalate War“, KyivPost, 02.02.2015). Trotzdem gelang den Angreifern nach mehrtägigen schweren Kämpfen am 5. Februar die Einnahme von Wuhlehirsk, etwa 13 Kilometer westlich von Debalzeve. Von drei Seiten wuchs der Druck auf den Frontvorsprung.

Fake-SMS an einen ukraininschen Soldaten (zum Vergrössern klicken).

Fake-SMS an einen ukraininschen Soldaten (zum Vergrössern klicken).

Zeit, Kraft, Raum: Wenn der Verlust eines kleinen Ortes das Schicksal von 3’000 Mann besiegeln kann
Die wichtigste Strasse für die Ukrainer war die M-03 von Artemiwsk nach Debalzeve. Trotz beständigem, aber eher zufälligem Artilleriebeschuss blieb das etwa 50 Kilometer lange Wegstück für den Risikogewillten “offen”. Das an dieser Strasse gelegenes Dorf Lowhynowe war von den Ukrainern jedoch so schwach besetzt, dass eine kleine Spezialeinheit der Pro-Russen den Ort am 9. Februar einnehmen konnte. Dort blockierten sie die wichtige Strasse mit ihren Waffen, Panzerminen und Holzhindernissen. Die ukrainischen Truppen weiter vorne wurden nicht über den Verlust des Dorfes informiert. Diverse Fahrzeuge fuhren während der Folgestunden arglos in die Sperre und damit in ihr Verderben – unter anderem Lastwagen voller Artilleriemunition für die Geschütze und Mörser in Debalzeve. Dies führte dort in den zehn nächsten, entscheidenden Kampftagen zu Munitionsmangel bei diesen essentiellen Unterstützungswaffen.

Als diese Strassenblockade endlich bemerkt wurde, konnten aus den Verteidigern Debalzeves keine Kräfte für einen Gegenangriff auf das kleine Dorf freigemacht werden. Erst am 12. Februar wurden dafür von ausserhalb Einheiten der Brigaden 30 und 24 sowie von der 79. Luftlandebrigade zusammengezogen. Aber nicht alle der für den Angriff designierten Einheiten trafen rechtzeitig ein, während die Gegenseite zwischenzeitlich ihre Verteidigung mit Panzern und effektivem Artilleriefeuer verstärkt hatte. Der ukrainische Angriff misslang. Beteiligte sagten, mit nur einem Bataillon mehr wäre er geglückt.

In Minsk wurde parallel zu diesen schwersten Kampfhandlungen eine erneute “Waffenruhe” ausgehandelt. Das Minsk II-Abkommen wurde am 12. Februar 2015 abgeschlossen, am Tag des missglückten ukrainischen Gegenangriffs auf Lowhynowe. Der Verlust wie auch die gescheiterte Rückeroberung eines einzigen kleinen Dorfes entlang der wichtigsten Strasse im ganzen Kriegsgebiet kann auf puren Kräftemangel zurückgeführt werden.

Lowhynowe dürfte der letzte Sargnagel gewesen sein, den der Debalzeve-Frontvorsprung schon lange zu werden drohte. Dessen Räumung wurde dadurch unumgänglich. Am 17./18. Februar versuchten gegen 3’000 ukrainische Soldaten sich abzusetzen. Die Karte rechts zeigt links zeigt den Weg (blau), den das 40. Ukrainische Bataillon nahm. Die vom Gegner einsehbare Strasse M-03 (in der Karte rechts braun gekennzeichnet) musste dazu grösstenteils gemieden werden. Auf dem Rückzug entstanden substantielle Verluste an Menschen und Material. Die Gegenseite hatte entsprechend der russischen Doktrin der Rückzugsweg nicht komplett unterbrochen. Dies hätte die verlustreiche Abwehr verzweifelter Ausbruchversuche erfordert. Im Gegenteil konnte so die Bekämpfung des kanalisierten Gegners der Artillerie überlassen werden. Karber beziffert die ukrainischen Debalzeve-Verluste mit 100 Kampfpanzern, 250 gepanzerte Kampffahrzeuge, über 100 Artilleriegeschützen und 700 Lastwagen (Modern War Institute, “Dr. Phillip Karber Explains Russian Operations in Ukraine“, West Point, 13.04.2017, 23′).

Debalzeve – Defensiver Achtungserfolg oder schlecht gewählter Verhandlungspfand der Ukrainer?
Es lässt sich nur spekulieren, welche operativen Ziele die russisch-separatistische Winteroffensive ursprünglich hatte. Bei Donezk und Debalzeve dürften zumindest Minimalziele erreicht worden sein, mit hohen Verlusten für beide Seiten. Besonders der Kampf um den Frontbogen stärkte klar die Verhandlungsposition der russischen Seite in den Minsk II-Verhandlungen. Natürlich erlitt auch die Gegenseite Verluste, die aber weder unersetzbar noch “vergebens” gewesen sein dürften. In der Ukraine hingegen wurde das Vertrauen in eigene militärische und politische Führung erschüttert. Gut ein Jahr später hebt ein ukrainischen “Dokumentarfilm” über diese Schlacht bei der Erwähnung von Orten wie Lowhynowe und Wuhlehirsk angestrengt die Kampferfolge einzelner Soldaten hervor. Dem letztendlichen Verlust des Frontbogens wird die vermeintliche Vereitelung weiterreichender Ziele der gegnerischen Winteroffensive gegenübergestellt. Letztlich trägt der damalige Präsident Petro Poroschenko die politische Verantwortung dafür, dass seine Soldaten ohne Eingreifreserven in einer exponierten Lage zu lange und passiv ausharren mussten.

Der Mitteleinsatz und Ressourcenverschleiss für die Schlacht um Debalzeve sollte jedem zu denken geben, der in mechanisierten Truppen nur ein nostalgisches Relikt aus dem Kalten Krieg sehen will. Auch im Zeitalter der “Hacker und Trolle” ging es am Ende darum, dass eine Seite (die russisch-separatistische) sich erfolgreich auf die Verbindungslinie der (ukrainischen) Gegenseite legte und ihre eigenen erfolgreich schützte. Es gibt also keinen Grund, im 21. Jahrhundert auf die Lektüre von Klassikern wie Antoine-Henri Jomini zu verzichten. Der Kämpfer am Computer und der Drohnenoperateur sind nur weitere Kameraden, auf den die Grenadiere und Panzerbesatzungen heute genauso angewiesen sind, wie auf die Aufklärer vor ihnen, die Piloten über ihnen, die Infanteristen an ihren Seiten und den Artilleristen, Übermittlern, Stabsoffizieren u.v.m. hinter ihnen.

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

Difficult G36 Replacement – Unrealistic demands on the future German Bundeswehr assault rifle?

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

Since the late 1990s, the Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle has been the standard rifle for the German Bundeswehr. The soldiers have confidence in this weapon. In their view, the rifle has proven itself, even in foreign missions, for example in Afghanistan. However, more than four years ago, the G36 made negative headlines. Tests had shown that the weapon loses accuracy when overheated. Under pressure from negative press coverage and without waiting for investigative reports from other working groups and commissions, the then Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced the retirement of the rifle. Ultimately, it turned out that the Bundeswehr soldiers had no problems with the rifle during battle and thus were not endangered. Regardless, the troops should get a new assault rifle; the bureaucratic process for the successor model has already started. However, it is already clear that the soldiers may have to wait longer for the new weapon than intended because there was criticism in the call for tenders.

A German Bundeswehr soldier of the Rapid Reaction Force in Masar-i-Scharif, Afghanistan, equipped with a G36.

A German Bundeswehr soldier of the Rapid Reaction Force in Masar-i-Scharif, Afghanistan, equipped with a G36.

The tendering process for a new Bundeswehr standard rifle has been going since the end of April 2017. The current model G36 should be replaced quickly because of the reputed technical weaknesses, such as the loss of accuracy at higher temperatures.

Doubts about the reliability of the weapon escalated four years ago to the so-called “G36 scandal”. The Ministry of Defense and the G36’s manufacturer Heckler & Koch entered into a bitter feud. It involved the question of whether with the G36 the company had delivered a weapon that did not meet the troops’ requirements. The Ministry even sued Heckler & Koch for damages, but lost the trial. Regardless, the G36 was no longer considered to be an up-to-date weapon, which was suitable for all scenarios for the Bundeswehr from the Baltic States, to Africa to Afghanistan.

Now 120,000 assault rifles are to be procured for 245 million euros. However, there is also a conflict about the G36’s successor. In October 2018, it became public that all submitted assault rifles failed to pass the test done by the Bundeswehr. Heckler & Koch, which has also applied for the contract, massively criticized the criteria stated in the tender in a letter to the Ministry of Defense published in May 2019. The completely unrealistic demands on the upcoming assault rifle would lead to the procurement of a weapon that does not meet the needs of the troops. The required maximum weight of 3.6 kg plays a major roll. Daniel Soudry, Certified Public Lawyer for Defense Procurement:

This is where the accusation of Heckler & Koch comes in. It is said that either all the requirements are fulfilled and the weight is exceeded or the weight requirement is met and the usage requirements for the weapon are not fulfilled. In other words a kind of “squaring of the circle”. And that would be such a classic case, if that is true, that the procurement law says something is demanded here that is not really achievable by bidders. And something like that can then definitely be assailed under procurement law.

The tender makes no specifications for the caliber of the new assault rifle. In addition to the usual NATO standard caliber 5.56 mm, the larger caliber 7.62 mm is therefore also permissible. According to Heckler & Koch, this heavier caliber would be the only sensible choice for the upcoming weapon. Only with the 7.62 mm caliber could the Bundeswehr’s requirements regarding precision and penetrating power be met. The problem is, however, that the new weapon must not weigh more than 3.6 kilograms. Apparently, according to the weapon manufacturer this weight requirement can only be fulfilled with the smaller 5.56 mm caliber. According to Heckler & Koch, the letter to the Ministry of Defense is not a letter of rebuke. Such would instigate a lawsuit. But why then the intervention?

In view of the tender for the successor to the G36 rifle, we have fulfilled our obligation as a specialist company to advise our customers competently and comprehensively in the selection of the new assault rifle to be procured. The aim of this explicit technical information is that a superior standard weapon can be procured for the soldiers to successfully carry out their mission for all realistic deployment scenarios. — Florian Bokermann, Director Public Affairs & Government Relations at the defense company Heckler & Koch.

So the weapons maker is smarter than the experts in the Bundeswehr? Not necessarily. Heckler & Koch’s letter apparently aims to persuade the Ministry of Defense to adapt the tender to the company’s vision. Obviously, the two models with which Heckler & Koch has applied for this large order – the models HK433 and HK416 – do not meet the requirements established by the Bundeswehr. Both weapons are 5.56 mm caliber. Heckler & Koch apparently demands that the weight limit of 3.6 kg for the new assault rifle be loosened. Because then the company could then be competitive with its HK417 model. This gun has the 7.62 mm caliber and is the heavy version of the HK 416, with which Heckler & Koch participated in the tender, but failed.

One thing is clear: companies naturally have an interest in selling a product that they have already developed and for which their production is already designed for. Heckler & Koch would have to invest a lot of money in advance for retrofits and new developments, without knowing if they will get the job at the end. Especially since the company, according to its annual report, is being squeezed by high debt burden (H&K AG, “Quarterly Report: Results for the Year Ended December 31, 2018“).

HK416 A5 - 11" – Kal. 5,56 MM X 45 NATO

HK416 A5 – 11″ – Kal. 5,56 MM X 45 NATO

A change in the tender is not in sight. Instead, the responsible procurement office considers improvement of the submitted assault rifles feasible and waits for them. A spokesman for the procurement office commented: “The demands to replace the G36 are challenging but achievable. We are confident that the competition will produce a suitable weapon.” However, the journalist and expert on handguns, Lars Winkelsdorf, sees things differently. He takes the same view as Heckler & Koch:

So I have a lot of documents; and in fact, the Bundeswehr is calling for a “can do everything” gismo. On the one hand, we have demands for effect, for extensive precision. On the other hand, the weapon should be as light as possible. And here are numerous physical factors that are already mutually exclusive.

In a first test phase, all submitted weapons for the G36 successor had actually failed, including the HK416 from Heckler & Koch. What is irritating, however, is that France’s army is currently procuring the Bundeswehr’s failed HK416 as their new standard rifle. Locations and scenarios for the Germans and French have become increasingly similar for quite some time – both are in operations from Afghanistan to Africa to the Baltic States. Moreover, France’s concept of an intervention army is geared much more to combat missions than that of the Bundeswehr. It is surprising that a weapon that satisfies the French failed miserably for the Bundeswehr. On request, the Bundeswehr procurement office only says: “The demands of the French armed forces on their new assault rifle are significantly different from those of the Bundeswehr”.

A product selected by France could also become relevant in the German procurement procedure. With this selection, the information on the French specifications and results of the product trials would be very helpful. — Quote from the Federal Ministry of Defense in 2015.

Meanwhile, a second series of tests of G36 replacement candidates is being conducted, which have been completed completed in late summer. To this end, bidding companies should have submitted improved models. Heckler & Koch has apparently not done that, but appears to be using their previous models and is banking on a change to the assault rifle criteria. The other publicly known competitor – Haenel – did not want to comment (however, Haenel told Remigiusz Wilk that the offered the second generation MK 556 assault rifle).

For Winkelsdorf, the specifications of the Bundeswehr tender are not only technically unattainable, the weapons expert also considers the entire conception of the G36 successor to be completely unsuccessful:

They are looking for a rifle to serve as a tool for all infantry tasks in the Bundeswehr. And it would actually make more sense if the Bundeswehr would provide their soldiers with a common platform. Here, at the level of the ministry itself, a clear catalog would first have had to be developed as to which weapon systems are needed at all for future operations and above all for which units.

That would mean that instead of pushing for as many requests from the troops on the upcoming assault rifle in one model, the Bundeswehr should define a rifle platform from the respective individual interests. From this, meaningful model variants for the respective end users, such as paratroopers or naval infantry, could be developed and procured. Once again from Winkelsdorf:

An example would be the American M16 weapon family, where there are many different versions. From the short version for special forces to precision rifles. But also on the Russian side we see that Kalashnikov manufactures numerous special versions for tank crews, for infantrymen, and even a light machine gun.

But the Bundeswehr wants to continue to procure a new extremely powerful standard rifle for all soldiers. The impression remains, as with many Bundeswehr armaments projects, once again a gold plated solution is being sought. This would be in stark contrast to the defense ministry’s claim to be more pragmatic in procurement, in order to facilitate the influx of weapon systems. Whether the Bundeswehr’s requirements for the new assault rifle can be met remains to be seen. It is perfectly clear now: the procurement of the G36 replacement will drag on.

Update from October 12th, 2019
According to the current schedule, the procurement decision for the new Bundeswehr assault rifle system is expected in the second quarter of 2020 — this means a delay of more than one year. The results of the second test phase are not disclosed. Even if the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support of the Bundeswehr has not informed the public as to whether one of the later-filed assault rifles has successfully passed the demanding tests. However, the fact that a decision has been made on the procurement of the rifles allows the conclusion to be drawn that at least one of the rifles has fulfilled all the requirements. (Source: Jean-Phillipp Weisswang and Waldemar Geiger, “System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr: Entscheidung 2020 erwartet“, ES&T – Europäische Sicherheit & Technik, 12.10.2019).

Posted in Armed Forces, Björn Müller, English, Technology | Leave a comment

Donbas: Waiting for reintegration into Ukraine

by Nikola Mikovic (Twitter), a Serbian freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst. He writes for several publications such as Geopolitical Monitor, Global Security Review, International Policy Digest, Global Comment, and Weekly Blitz. Nikola covers mostly Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service signals for people to stop as they approach a checkpoint at the contact line between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops, in Mayorsk, eastern Ukraine on July 3rd, 2019 (Photo: Gleb Garanich).

A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service signals for people to stop as they approach a checkpoint at the contact line between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops, in Mayorsk, eastern Ukraine on July 3rd, 2019 (Photo: Gleb Garanich).

Kyiv and the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic signed an agreement last Tuesday, which paves the way for gradual reintegration of the Donbas region into Ukraine. The document known as the “Steinmeier Formula“, named after former German Foreign Minister and now President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, envisages that the Donbas should get a special self-governing status after it holds elections under Ukrainian legislation.

The main difference between the Minsk Protocol signed in the Belarusian capital in 2014 and 2015, and the “Steinmeier Formula” is that the later does not mention a ceasefire necessary for the beginning of elections. According to Minsk II, an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire has to be established, and all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries have to be withdrawn. However, the Minsk Protocol failed precisely at these points, and the “Steinmeier Formula” avoids to mention these pre-conditions for local elections in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

Whether this will now lead to local elections in 2020 and the long term to a stabilization of the situation in Eastern Ukraine is rather doubtful. According to Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford University, the “Steinmeier Formula” is very unpopular in Ukraine because people see it as a sell-out to Moscow. The problem lies in defining what kind of autonomy both oblasts would be granted. A federal Ukraine where both oblasts would have a de facto veto in Ukraine’s politics would be a non-starter for many in Ukraine. According to Orysia Lutsevych, Research Fellow & Manager of the Ukraine Forum and Russia and Eurasia Programs at Chatham House, a majority of Ukrainians reject the idea of enshrining a special status for the Donbas in the Constitution (Mattia Nelles, “Expert Q&A: Will the Steinmeier Formula Bring Peace to Ukraine?“, Atlantic Council, 04.10.2019).

However, the lack of a definition of the nature of autonomy poses a risk not only for the Ukrainian side. After the election, a special status enshrined in the Constitution, and simultaneous longterm stabilization of the region, Ukraine will reinstate full control of its state border with Russia. For the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republic, this constitutes a significant change. Currently, they are de facto unrecognized countries with their military, police, customs, education, health, and justice systems. However, under Kyiv’s full control, in a worst-case scenario, it could be completely irrelevant if the territory formally has special status or not. As a comparison: after the Erdut Agreement between Croatia and local Serbs in the former Republic of Serbian Krajina, which enabled Zagreb to establish full control over the state border with Serbia, Serbs lost all the rights they previously had. Russian full implementation of the “Steinmeier Formula” might have the same consequence for the Russian and Russian speaking population of the Donbas, as Kyiv aims to implement full Ukrainization of that area, as it did in the rest of the country, practically not to provide any form of autonomy.

At this point, however, it is highly uncertain if the Kremlin will be ready to abandon its proxies in the Donbas, as such action could send a clear message to entities such as Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. Also, if the Kremlin agrees to return the Donbas to Ukraine, the West would unlikely lift all the sanctions it imposed on Russia in the past five years. Instead, it would welcome progress towards peace but probably would also put intense pressure on Russia to start the negotiation process with Ukraine over the status of Crimea. That is why some analysts believe that any form of reintegration of the Donbas into Ukraine would be seen as a sign of Russian weakness, and might be the start of another conflict. However, since Moscow already got involved in negotiations with Japan over the status of the Kuril Islands, which have been an integral part of Russia for over seventy years, it is not unrealistic to expect that the Kremlin will eventually negotiate the status of Crimea with Ukraine and the West.

Ukrainian nationalists hold a banner reading 'No capitulation!' as they protest against the "Steinmeier formula", near the Presidential Office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 1st, 2019.

Ukrainian nationalists hold a banner reading ‘No capitulation!’ as they protest against the “Steinmeier formula”, near the Presidential Office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 1st, 2019.

In the past, however, Russia has had bad experiences with the outcome of such negotiations. Apart from the Donbas peace talks, Steinmeier played a crucial role during the violent protests in Kyiv in 2014, which resulted in overthrowing the former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. He, along with Yanukovych and Ukrainian opposition leaders, signed the Agreement on the settlement of political crisis in Ukraine. The document was never implemented, and Russian President Vladimir Putin later accused his “Western partners” of “deceiving Russia” by violating the agreement. In an interview published by Russian state TV in 2018, the Russian president openly admitted that his “Western partners” required from him to put pressure on Yanukovych and ask him not to use force against violent Western-backed protesters. Putin agreed, and Yanukovych was overthrown. How likely is it that the Russian proxies in the Donbas will eventually face the same fate — abandoned by Moscow and overthrown by Kyiv?

Posted in English, Nikola Mikovic, Russia, Security Policy, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Summer of Reflection: Malaysia’s New Defense White Paper… and more…

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 presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, who was defeated in the Indonesian elections, did not accept the final result and accused the other side of electoral fraud. This subsequently led to riots in which six people lost their lives, and more than 200 people were wounded. Indonesia's constitutional court rejected all the accusations at the end of June.

The presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, who was defeated in the Indonesian elections, did not accept the final result and accused the other side of electoral fraud. This subsequently led to riots in which six people lost their lives and more than 200 people were wounded. Indonesia’s constitutional court rejected all the accusations at the end of June.

As the dust settles from its general election in April, it seems little will change for Indonesia: Joko Widodo (commonly known as Jokowi) will continue to serve as President until at least 2024. However, Indonesia has often distanced itself from regional issues like the South China Sea disputes, and there are important recalibrations of defense policy elsewhere in Southeast Asia that merit attention. In the ongoing rivalry between the United States and China, it is certainly worth following these course changes among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in order to better understand where sympathies might if there is an escalation in the aforementioned great power rivalry.

Of particular interest, Malaysia has indicated that it will release a new defense white paper, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament in November. This will be the first time Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense has released such a strategic document, and it could go some way toward answering lingering questions about the foreign policy orientation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Since the unexpected victory of Mahathir Mohamad and the Pakatan Haripan coalition in Malaysia’s May 2018 general election, it has been unclear how the country will position itself in the South China Sea disputes. There is even ambiguity as to whether Malaysia will ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a wide-sweeping free trade agreement that also includes Japan, Canada, Mexico, and seven other countries.

Malaysian Coast Guard (MMEA) marine protector-class offshore patrol vessel KM 7501 Langkawi patrols in the waters of the Singapore strait in January 2017.

Malaysian Coast Guard (MMEA) marine protector-class offshore patrol vessel KM 7501 Langkawi patrols in the waters of the Singapore strait in January 2017.

The forthcoming defense white paper would go some way toward clarifying where Malaysia sees itself in the region and the broader international community. However, some stakeholders, such as the US, might be left disappointed by the contents. One of the more significant foreign policy initiatives pursued in the first year of this new Malaysian government was the establishment of a multi-departmental task force to combat illegal fishing, which was responsible for the capture of 25 Vietnamese fishing vessels in May 2019 alone and the issuance of an official protest note to Hanoi. Malaysia is not the only Southeast Asian country to suffer the effects of illegal fishing – in fact, Indonesia seized two Malaysian-flagged vessels in the Strait of Malacca on suspicion of engaging in just such activities in February 2019 – but the Pakatan Haripan government has taken a harder line. As such, continued efforts to address illegal fishing and resulting disputes with neighbors like Vietnam might occupy a prominent place in the defense white paper.

References in this document to illegal fishing, territorial disputes with Indonesia and Singapore, and the lingering effects of the 2013 Lahad Datu standoff with Philippines-based militants could present “wedge issues” for China, which would not see its expansionist interests in the South China Sea well-served by a coherent ASEAN. As such, much will hinge on Malaysia’s first defense white paper.

Brunei Darussalam has also indicated that it will release its defense white paper in early 2021. Brunei has considerable experience with such strategic documents, and so few surprises are expected there. In March 2019, Bruneian officials announced that the update to the country’s defense strategy would emphasize the role of defense diplomacy, as well as Brunei’s participation in multilateral bodies like ASEAN and, in particular, the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meetings (ADMM). However, any reference to the South China Sea will likely be missing, given that China has invested heavily in the Bruneian economy in recent years, with Hengyi Industries’ $3.4 billion Pulau Muara Besar refinery and petrochemical complex, which is expected to be operational by the end of 2019. Not wanting to imperil such investment into its troubled economy, Brunei’s policy on Chinese expansionism will undoubtedly remain that of acquiescence.

Other regional countries are long overdue for a strategic update, such as Cambodia (whose most recent defense white paper was issued in 2006) and Vietnam (whose own equivalent was last updated in 2009). But Indonesia is likely to be the next ASEAN member state to develop a new strategic document related to national defense. The most recent iteration of this document was published on November 2015, a little over one year after Jokowi was elected to his first term as President of Indonesia. In an election campaign that saw his record on defense issues heavily criticized by his main opponent, Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi secured a second term in April 2019. Although Jokowi won by a significant margin – 55.5% of the vote to Subianto’s 44.5% – this criticism could lead him to direct the country’s Ministry of Defense to revamp Indonesian defense policy and put forward some programs that would at least create the perception of a modernized National Armed Forces.

Joko Widodo onboard the Imam Bonjol warship in Indonesia's Natuna Islands.

Joko Widodo onboard the Imam Bonjol warship in Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.

Were Indonesia to proceed with a new defense white paper in the next year or so, this should be a welcome development for US policymakers and others concerned by China’s actions in the region. The Indonesian public has an increasingly negative view of China according to recent polls, and a new defense white paper could reflect this by referencing China as a potential threat to Indonesian security. Indonesia is a non-claimant state in the South China Sea, but China’s unilateral declaration of the nine-dash line intersects with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone near the Natuna islands. To cement Indonesia’s claim to the Natuna islands, Jokowi even personally visited them aboard an Indonesian military vessel in June 2016. Less related to Indonesia’s national security, Jokowi took considerable efforts in the 2019 election campaign to court religious conservatives, even making Indonesia’s top Muslim cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, his running mate. Advocacy on behalf of repressed Muslim communities elsewhere in the world, such as the Uighurs of China’s Xinjiang province, might become a new pillar of Indonesian foreign policy.

The next few years will prove crucial for not only the power struggle in the broader Asia-Pacific region but also for the future of ASEAN as an effective multilateral arrangement. China has demonstrated how quickly it can move to secure its interests or ambitions in the region, constructing reefs and other land features in the South China Sea protected by anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems in a matter of only a few years. A lack of any formal attention to this issue in the defense strategies of ASEAN members continues this trend of ceding the initiative to China. Hopefully, defense planners from Malaysia and some of its neighbors can capture this issue and propose measures to address this effectively.

Posted in Brunei, English, Indonesia, Malaysia, Paul Pryce, Politics in General, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A long way: Russian military reform – Part 3

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

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

Outlook through 2030

Until about 2018, the 2011-2020 state armaments program was the basis for the modernization of the Russian armed forces and amounted to 20.7 trillion rubles, equivalent to about 700 billion US dollars for the entire period or in other words, the yearly budget for the US armed forces. Not even half of this budget was used until 2018, partly because the Russian defense industry is often overwhelmed when it comes to quantity and quality. Although military equipment based on Soviet design is easy to mass-produce, high-volume production and the development of entirely new weapon systems are proving to be difficult. Taking into account the findings from the operation in Syria, the low oil price, western sanctions following the annexation of Crimea and the interference in the war in Ukraine, it became apparent that Russia could not sustain the arms program in the long run. Therefore, in December 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the new State Armament Program for 2018-2027. Expressed in rubles, it has a budget similar to that of the previous program. Converted into US dollars, it does not even include half of the previous amount due to inflation. Since most military equipment is produced in Russia itself, however, the decline in the value of the ruble against the US dollar is less significant (Richard Connolly and Mathieu Boulègue, “Russia’s New State Armament Programme: Implications for Russian Armed Forces and Military Capabilities to 2017“, Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Mai 2018, p. 4f, 8, 10).

Even though the armament program is classified, enough details have been published by Russian officials, politicians, press articles, etc. that allow a rough estimate of the further development of armed forces until 2030. Vostok 2018 has already pointed to certain priorities for the next then years. The units, especially the airborne troops and special forces, are to become more mobile and can be mobilized on short notice even over long distances. Procuring new transport and tanker aircraft, therefore, plays an important role. However, extending the operational possibilities of the Antonov aircraft from Ukraine is not an option. These are to be replaced by the Ilyushin Il-476, Il-76MD Candid and possibly the Il-106 Ermak. Mass production of the Il-76MD Candid began in early 2018, but whether the goal of 40 units by the end of 2027 can be attained remains to be seen. (Connolly and Boulègue, p. 4, 15).

The modernization of the nuclear triad will be continued in the new armaments program and will play an important role. For intercontinental ballistic missiles, Russia will have a mix of RS-24 Yars (since 2010) and RS-28 Sarmat (from 2019) towards the end of the 2020s. The RS-24 Yars can carry 3-4 nuclear warheads, the RS-28 Sarmat can potentially carry up to 24 MIRV (likely up to three Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles) depending on size and mass [1], which should be able to penetrate a missile shield with both conventional and nuclear warheads equipped (Julian Cooper, “The Russian State Armament Programme, 2018-2027“, NATO Defense College, Mai 2018, p. 3). These are two of the new systems that Putin presented to Parliament in his Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018. Another proposed system – a still unnamed nuclear-powered cruise missile – will most likely not be completed by 2030, if at all (Jeffrey Lewis and Aaron Stein, “Russia’s Crashing Cruise Missile“, Arms Control Wonk, 11.06.2018). For strategic bombers, Russia will probably have to rely on a modernized Tupolev Tu-95MS Bear and Tu-160M2 Blackjack until the mid-2030s, as the newly planned PAK DA strategic bomber (subsonic speed, but with an operational distance of 15,000 km) will hardly be operational before that. Not listed as a strategic bomber due to the lack of, though retrofittable, mid-air refueling capability, Russia will also have Tu-22M3 Backfire (30 of the 100 will be upgraded to Tu-22M3M), which were used as bombers in the Syrian War. The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic air-to-ground missile, another weapon system introduced by Putin, which is also said to be able to penetrate a missile shield, is currently under development and is being tested in the Southern Military District. However, at the moment, it can not be estimated whether this system will be operational by 2030. The three strategic Borei-class submarines are among the most advanced Russian weapon systems and will be gradually supplemented by five additional submarines between 2019 and mid-2025. Together these eight submarines can then carry 128 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles, each of which has six nuclear warheads (Connolly and Boulègue, p. 16ff; “Balistic and Cruise Missile Threat“, National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee, June 2017, p. 33). It is still unclear whether Russia will develop additional new submarines (Project 09852, Belgorod). The Belgorod should carry up to four long-range unmanned underwater vehicles Kanyon (Status 6), equipped with nuclear warheads as announced by Putin (Cooper, p. 8).

Otherwise, the naval fleet no longer receives special treatment. On the contrary, the naval fleet is the real loser of the new armaments budget. The reason lies in the limited capabilities of the Russian shipbuilding and in the Kalibr cruise missiles, which allow smaller and older ships to operate from a distance of up to 2,500 km. Therefore, destroyers, cruisers, corvettes, frigates, and tactical submarines from the Soviet era are to be further modernized, but new large warships are not provided until well after 2030. If it does not sink before then, Russia will only have one obsolete aircraft carrier for the next 10-15 years, Admiral Kuznetsov, which is to be modernized by 2021. In the best-case scenario, eight new Gremyashchiy-class corvettes, three Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates, five Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates, two Lada-class submarines, six Varshavyankas-class submarines, and six Yasen-class nuclear attack submarines will be launched. Fifth-generation submarines will probably be barely produced before 2030. These include the diesel-electric Kalina-class and the nuclear-powered Husky-class. Also, amphibious capabilities will remain at a relatively low level. Currently, there are 4 Alligator-class 50+ year old ships, 15 Ropucha-class 40+ year old ships, and one new Ivan Gren-class ship. Initially, eight Ivan Gren-class ships were planned; six were canceled because of persistent technical problems (Connolly and Boulègue, p. 21; Dmitry Gorenburg, “Russia’s Military Modernization Plans: 2018-2027“, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memos, no. 495, 22.11.2017). Together with Great Britain and France, Russia will remain a medium-sized naval power in 2030, which can concurrently carry out only one major operation over a longer period.

Sukhoi Su-57 with the image of the Sukhoi Okhotnik UCAV on the fuselage.

Sukhoi Su-57 with the image of the Sukhoi Okhotnik UCAV on the fuselage.

The air and land forces are better off. The arsenal of combat aircraft is to be further modernized. By the end of 2017, this should include at least 186 Sukhoi Su-30MKI Flanker-H, 200 Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E, 200 Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback, 24 Mikoyan MiG-35 Fulcrum-F as well as some Mikoyan MiG-29SMT Fulcrum-E and MiG-31 Foxhound. Even though two prototypes have been tested in Syria, and 12-13 Sukhoi Su-57s are expected to be delivered between 2020 and 2025 (but still with an old engine because the development of the new high-performance engine is causing difficulties), it is unlikely that by the end of 2027 a larger number of Fifth-generation combat aircraft will be fully operational (Vladimir Karnozov, “Russia places initial Production Order for Stealth Fighter“, Aviation International News, 03.07.2018; Connolly and Boulègue, p. 18ff).

For ground troops, a total of about 2,700 T-72, T-80 and T-90 main battle tanks are to be further modernized. They are expected to represent the backbone of the ground forces by 2030. Mass production of the T-14 Armata is to begin by the end of next year, but because the main battle tank is relatively expensive in contrast to the modernized T-90M, and apparently being shunned by the armored forces, only one brigade is to be equipped with around 100 units of the new main battle tank by the end of 2027 (“Chapter Five: Russia and Eurasia“, The Military Balance, vol. 118, 2018, p. 177; Connolly and Boulègue, p. 24). Also starting in 2021 a few Kurganets-25 infantry fighting vehicles are expected. For this purpose, 540 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle and BMD-2 airborne tanks are to be modernized. Additionally the BMP-3 Dragoon will be produced from this year, which should have similar capabilities as the Kurganets-25, but is much cheaper to produce. The Bumerang infantry fighting vehicle and the T-15 Armata infantry fighting vehicle are currently unavailable – mass production by the end of 2027 is unlikely (Cooper, p. 11). Artillery will be modernized in a first phase with the 15.2 cm 2S19 Msta-S armored howitzer which will be gradually replaced in a second phase from 2020 by the new 15.2 cm 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV, which should be able to shoot precision ammunition up to 70 km (Nicholas de Larrinaga and Nikolai Novichkov, “Russia’s Armour Revolution“, IHS Jane’s 360, 25.04.2016). In addition, Uragan-1M and 9A52-4 Tornado multiple rocket launchers will be procured. In addition to the introduction of a modern fire control system, artillery brigades and regiments will, in the future, be equipped with drones for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and target evaluation. The armed forces currently have more than 1,000 unarmed Orlan-10 drones that can remain airborn for around 16 hours and are controlled by a ground station with a deployment radius of around 120-140 km. They will be used for reconnaissance and surveillance and will probably be capable of targeting and evaluating in the medium term. Russia still does not have armed drones (Connolly and Boulègue, S. 18ff).


Two factors are significantly responsible for the reform of the Russian armed forces. First, US and NATO behavior and several international events in 1999 seemed to point to a shift in the balance of power. Russia was powerless against NATO’s eastward enlargement, NATO’s Operation Allied Force, and NATO’s new expansive strategic concept. Despite nuclear armament, the effectiveness of the US precision weapons and the apparent capability gap of the Russian armed forces shook Russia’s status as a major power. This led to a new perception of threat from the US and NATO, a significant change in Russian domestic policy, and a long-term reversal of integration efforts in the Western world order. Together with the increase in government revenues since 2000 due to rising raw material prices, and with a new, self-confident Russian president, the conditions were ripe for a reform of the Russian armed forces. As a result, there was quantitative consolidation and investment in the preservation and modernization of the strategic nuclear arsenal, but there was still little pressure for comprehensive reform. Institutional sluggishness and resistance by the generals stood in the way. Only the second factor, the embarrassing performance for a great power in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, led both the political and military leaders to a willingness for an uncompromising enforcement of military reform. The necessary restructuring was implemented relatively quickly. Although there were still generals who were against a comprehensive reform, these were moved to retirement by the Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov with the backing of Putin. Influential posts were in turn filled by younger, progressive officers. However, the modernization of the Russian armed forces proved to be a much greater challenge due to the neglected arms industry after the Cold War.

Therefore, the newer weapon systems delivered to the military in large numbers from 2011 are still based on Soviet technology. Nevertheless, in more than ten years since the Russo-Georgian War, Russian forces have been modernized in many ways. An important step was, for example, the introduction of the Ratnik infantry fighting system, which brings the soldiers’ personal equipment up to date. Only with modern equipment and adequate protection can the right soldiers who are disciplined and ready to fight under challenging conditions be found in the long-term. This change could be observed from 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, the War in Donbass, and the military intervention in the Syrian Civil War. The troop commanders are better trained, the troops behave disciplined and are ready for action. Significant improvements in operations management, mobility, logistics, and conventional weapon systems have also been achieved over the last ten years. For example, Russia has limited quantities of precision weapons that can be deployed over long distances from a variety of carrier platforms (Eric Schmitt, “Vast Exercise Demonstrated Russia’s Growing Military Prowess“, The New York Times, 22.12.2017; Lamont Colucci, “The Coming Russian Aggression“, US News & World Report, 10.10.2017). Zapad 2017 and Vostok 2018 point out that the Russian armed forces can defend their territory and that of their allies effectively and sustainably, with the emphasis on the western and southern military districts. Offensive capabilities, however, remain rather conservative if a regional nuclear strike is excluded.

RS-28 Sarmat

RS-28 Sarmat

In addition to the sanctions by Western countries and economic problems, the operation in Syria, in particular, has led to an early replacement of the 2011-2020 state armaments program and had a lasting effect on the follow-up program for the period 2018-2027. In the next ten years, a qualitative upgrading of the nuclear triad is to be expected. Russia wants to ensure a reliable second-strike capability in connection with last year’s US Nuclear Posture Review and the planned US missile shield. Combined with the degradation of international arms control treaties, there is a high risk of a renewed arms race.

The conventional weapon systems will also be further modernized in the next ten years. Paradoxically, this is in the interest of the Western world. If the “escalation to de-escalation” doctrine is taken into account, a more conventionally equipped Russia means a lower chance of using nuclear weapons. However, despite full-bodied announcements, the state armaments program for the next ten years is more of an evolution than a revolution. The Russian defense industry has much to catch up to in terms of quantity and quality. With Western sanctions, this is particularly difficult when it comes to electronic systems for the construction of navigation satellites and combat drones and in shipbuilding. Despite visible progress since the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, the Russian armed forces still have a long way to go in terms of modernization.

[1] There are different opinions on how many Avangard hypersonic gliders the RS-28 Sarmat can deploy. According to Deagel: “the MIRVed Sarmat will carry 10-15 or up 24 Yu-74 nuclear warheads [(Projektname des Avangard Überschallgleiters)] delivering them to suborbital trajectories which will allow them to reach any target on Earth following any trajectory. […] As ICBM the missile is armed with ten 750-kiloton warheads (7.5 megatons) which are at the same time independently targetable (MIRV) and maneuverable (MARV). As carrier, the missile is armed with 16 hypersonic glide vehicles yielding 500 kilotons each (8 megatons) or 24 hypersonic glide vehicles each yielding 150 kilotons (3.6 megatons).”

Clarifications by Bernhard Schulyok, Specialist Officer of the Department of Military Strategy of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Defense, in the context of the 2019 Interdisciplinary Technology Talks (an event in cooperation with the Austrian Armed Forces, the Office for Armaments and Defense Technology, the Austria Institute for European and Security Policy and the Center for Security Studies of the ETH Zurich) showed that the RS-28 Sarmat probably could carry up to 24 MIRV (for example warheads) depending on size and mass, but that only up to 3 Avangard hypersonic gliders were probable. I thank Bernhard Schulyok for the clarifications and the corresponding feedback.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, International, Patrick Truffer, Russia, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Current generation of US spy satellite has a resolution of 10 cm per pixel

At the end of August, US President Donald Trump released a photo from satellite imagery showing the launch pad of the Imam Khomeini Spaceport at the Semnan Space Center in northern Iran, where a launch of an Iranian Safir space rocket failed. It was Iranian’s third attempt to loft a satellite into space, after two launches in January (Simorgh) and February (Safir) were unsuccessful in placing satellites in orbit. More than two-thirds of Iran’s satellite launches have failed over the past 11 years, a remarkably high number compared with the 5 percent failure rate worldwide.

In contrast to publicly available satellite imagery from Planet Labs and Maxar Technologies, the resolution of the tweeted imagery was with approximately 10 cm per pixel stunningly good. The imagery was probably shot by the USA-224 aka NROL-49 spy satellite, which is based on a KH-11 KENNEN (Block V) design. It shows the capabilities of the current generation of US spy satellites.

The photo used in Trump’s tweet probably was made by a cellphone. However, it seems that Trump did not tweet the satellite image immediately, because the black box at the top left corner was added after the shot and probably hides the level of classification on the original image.

David Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, who closely examined the satellite imagery said that the image in Trump’s tweet revealed many details that reinforced the idea of a fueling or final-preparations disaster. For instance, the launching tower was still in the middle of the launching pad rather than having been pulled back — the standard Iranian practice.

For more details, the excellent and informative video produced by Scott Manley about the satellite imagery and the US spy satellite behind it, is highly recommended:


Posted in English, Intelligence, Iran, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment