Things to look for in near future for Russian Baltic Fleet: Return of AGI and naval exercise

Intelligence ship Fyodor Golovin (AGI) of the Russian Baltic Fleet has been relieved off Syria and is now returning to the Baltic Sea. That reported Russian military news site on Tuesday. Fyodor Golovin was replaced on duty by the intelligence ship Ekvator of the Black Sea Fleet.

Russia has had a shortage of intelligence ships in the Mediterranean since last April when the intelligence ship Liman sank after a collision with a merchant ship1. Therefore the Baltic Fleet has chipped in on the duty off Syria.

Apparently Fyodor Golovin has already left the Mediterranean and is now in the Atlantic. It must be expected to arrive to the Baltic Sea within some weeks. The ship does not use AIS, so it is not possible to track the progress directly. However, we can usually count on the British press to give a heads up when there is a passage of the English Channel.

Another AGI, the newly built Ivan Khurs, will soon make the trip the other way. It is currently undergoing sea trials in the Baltic Sea but is expected to join the Black Sea Fleet sometime during the spring where, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it will take the place of the sunken Liman.

In related news, the Russian Ministry of Defense published information that the Baltic Fleet is preparing for an exercise where more than 20 ships of different sizes and a number of aircraft will take part. So there will be something to monitor for the other fleets in the Baltic region in the time to come.

  1. Liman was hit while at anchor in thick fog without transmitting on AIS. Navies need to get their act together here. I wrote a piece back in September explaining why turning off AIS is a terrible idea, and the points apply equally well to the Russian and the U.S. Navies. 

Helicopter scandals for everyone, Blackhawk to the rescue

Helicopters are a common problem for the scandinavian countries. Everyone seems struggling with deliveries, reliability, and costs. It is not a flattering story for European helicopters NH90 and AW101, and the American Blackhawk and Seahawk may be the solution everyone is turning to.

Recently it made headlines that Sweden is considering not using NH90 helicopters for tactical transportation because it is too expensive to use the helicopter. Apparently the operating costs amount to 200,000 SEK per hour, which is a ridiculous number.

Sweden’s adventure with NH90 has been a horror story of bad news. In 2001 Sweden signed a contract for 18 helicopters that were supposed to be delivered before 2009. Nine of these were of the maritime version (NFH: NATO Frigate Helicopter) for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare (ASW and ASuW), and nine were for tactical transportation and search-and-rescue (TTH: Tactical Transport Helicopter). Unfortunately, helicopter producer NHIndustries proved absolutely unreliable.

NH90 helicopter
NH90 helicopter.

By 2011 Sweden had to make an urgent purchase of 15 UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters from Sikorsky to replace the aging Super Pumas that were used in Afghanistan. Sikorsky was able to deliver the first Blackhawk in only 10 months, and by 2013 Swedish Blackhawks were flying operationally in Afghanistan.

…Continue reading

Russia has lost its economic leverage over Ukraine

Nicu Popescu has written a great article for Carnegie Moscow Center about the future relationship between Russia and Ukraine.

“Those in Moscow who believe that all is not lost for Russia in Ukraine, citing the example of Georgia, which is gradually normalizing relations with Russia despite the 2008 war, are being overly optimistic. While the current animosity in Russian-Ukrainian relations will almost certainly cool down in a few years, the underlying foundation of that relationship has been fundamentally altered. Most crucially, Ukraine’s economic dependence on Russia has been decreasing — and with it, Russian leverage over its neighbor.”

This is an interesting point. The important thing is not how the conflict is hurting Russia’s economy, but how it is changing Ukraine’s.

Latvia buys Spike anti-tank missiles

Latvia has signed a deal to purchase Spike anti-tank missiles from Israel for a total sum of €108 million. That reports Latvian Public Broadcasting. Spike is a very capable weapon, which is comparable to the American Javelin system that neighboring Estonia recently purchased. The weapons will be delivered to Latvia until 2023.

The exact number and versions of missiles that Latvia will obtain is not clear. Latvia already has 12 Spike-LR systems so it is possible that the new weapons will be of the same type. This is a long-range version with a range up to 5 kilometers.

In 2014 Latvia purchased 123 refurbished tracked combat reconnaissance vehicles (CVR-T) from the British Army, and it is noted that about 30 of these will be equipped with the Spike anti-tank missiles. However, in addition to this there will also be a portable version for infantry use, and minister of defense Raimonds Bergmanis mentions both the National Armed Forces and the National Guard in his statement about the purchase.

Anti-tank capabilities have long been considered a deficiency in the Latvian military. This is obviously a desired capability in the scenario of a land invasion.

Spike is produced by Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. For political reasons the weapon is technically bought from EuroSpike, which is a German company that produces a version that differs slightly from the original Israeli missile.

Russia forbids soldiers to use social media

New guidelines from the Russian Ministry of Defense aim to limit the access of soldiers to the internet. So far these guidelines are only recommendations, but they will be implemented in legislation soon. That reports Izvestia.

Some of the recommendations are very sensible: Install software updates, don’t install suspicious apps, and use complex and unique passwords for all services. There are also some good reminders of privacy issues on the internet and the dangers of revealing sensitive information. It is for example mentioned how the geolocation of an attached photo or video file may cause the enemy to attack that location.

However, other recommendations are more concerning. For example, soldiers should …Continue reading

K9 Thunder howitzers delivered to Finland

Finland has received the first K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzers from South Korea. That announced Finnish defense minister Jussi Niinistö on Friday. Finland has ordered a total of 48 K9 Thunder howitzers, and judging by the images from the Vuosaari docks at least four of them have arrived.

The K9 Thunder is a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer produced by Samsung Techwin. Finland signed the €146 million deal in February of 2017, and the vehicles will be produced for Finland between 2017 and 2024. They will replace the old Soviet produced 2S1 Gvozdika howitzers that Finland has.

Finland is the first Scandinavian country to receive deliveries of the K9 Thunder. In addition to Finland, also Estonia and Norway have bought the howitzer. Estonia has purchased 12 howitzers, and Norway has purchased 24 with an option for another 24.

U.S. military budget for 2018 blows the boundaries of reason

US military spending is an interesting topic. On the one hand there is a widespread conception among military personnel that the military is suffering under severe budget constraints. On the other hand the actual spending on the military is very high — and much higher than during the Cold War.

Now the 2018 budget is ready. William Hartung has a good comment on the agreement:

“Today the Senate reached a budget deal that would increase spending for the Pentagon and nuclear weapons to a mind-blowing $700 billion this year, while locking in an even higher figure for 2019. This would put the Pentagon budget at one of its highest levels since World War II, and many, many times as high as the military budget of any potential adversary. Do we really need these huge sums of money to defend the country?

The short answer is no.”

This reminded me of this episode from the War College podcast about the issue and myths of American defense spending. The essential point is that the budget is ridiculously high but the money is wasted on prestige weapons that are so expensive that they are impractical to use. Organizational infighting also contributes to the poor value that the United States gets from its defense Dollars. The tendency to oversell the features of new weapons and underestimate the production costs means that almost all procurement projects blow the budget.

The idea that NATO wants to attack Russia is very common

In Russian security discussions there is a very different narrative about world events than in the West. Few people realize the extend to which the West is portrayed as a fascist coalition that wants to undermine Russia and uses clandestine conspiracies to achieve its goals. This is not just a propaganda byline but a fairly common view also among serious analysts.

Most of these discussions are in Russian, so they are not accessible to a Western audience. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has published this article in English by Aleksandr Khramchikhin which is an interesting account from a Russian perspective. …Continue reading

Finland chooses Harpoon and ESSM for new corvettes

The U.S. State Department has approved two missile sales to Finland. This includes Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles for the new multipurpose corvettes and [Harpoon missiles] for the Hamina class, the new corvettes, and for coastal batteries.

Evolved Sea Sparrow is a medium range air defense missile developed by Raytheon. It is a well established brand which is used in many nations. Finland will apparently buy 68 ESSMs and an inert training missile. Finland also buys 17 quad pack canisters and eight shipping containers. The price of this is estimated at $112.7 million.

Harpoon is an anti-ship missile which is widely used. However, Finland will buy the new Extended Range (ER) version which has a range of almost 250 kilometers. This is also known as Harpoon Next Generation, and Finland is the first buyer of the missile since it was unveiled by Boeing in 2015. In total Finland will buy 112 Harpoon missiles and eight exercise missiles. The price of the Harpoon package is estimated at $622 million.

The announcement comes as a surprise as earlier rumors said that Finland was considering the Saab RTS-15 or Kongsberg NSM missiles.

Finland’s four new multipurpose corvettes are constructed under the name of Flotilla 2020. Their costs are estimated at €1.2 billion which does not include the missiles. They will have a displacement of around 3000 tons, a length of 105 meters, a breadth of 15 meters, and a draft of 5 meters.

Turkey is losing Leopard 2 tanks in Syria at an alarming pace

The Turkish operations in Northern Syria have caused some debate about the quality of the Leopard 2 tanks. The Leopard 2 is widely regarded as one of the best tanks in the world, yet the Turks seem to lose them on the battlefield at an alarming pace. Yesterday, another Leopard 2 became the victim of an anti-tank missile, and Kurdish forces were quick to publish footage of the incident on YouTube.

Russian blog bmpd notes that the Leopard 2 has a fatal construction error where the ammunition is stored close to the lightly armored side of the tank. This fundamentally turns the Leopard 2 into a “bomb on caterpillars”.

The story is more complicated than that, though. The Turkish tanks are of the Leopard 2A4 model which isn’t optimized for asymmetric warfare. Basically they are intended for a head on battle with the enemy, so their armor is primarily on the front. Later 2A5, 2A6, and 2A7 models boast better protection in a counter-insurgency environment where threats like IEDs and mines are prevalent. However, Germany has refused to upgrade the Turkish tanks due to political disagreements.

Sébastien Roblin has a nice analysis of Turkey’s poor experiences with the Leopard 2 in Syria in The National Interest. He suggests that there are technical reasons for the tank’s problems, but that tactical decisions contribute as well. Instead of using the tanks alongside supporting infantry, Turkey has kept them behind as long-range fire-support weapons. This has isolated the Turkish Leopard 2s on exposed firing positions where they are vulnerable to ambushes.