Danish defense minister says it will take many years to improve relationship with Russia

Danish minister of defense Claus Hjort Frederiksen on Monday:

Russia has chosen a path fundamentally different from ours. A path where international cooperation has become a zero sum game. […] Furthermore, Moscow has demonstrated an appetite for taking risks. I find it disturbing that that we now face a situation with much less dialogue between Russia and the West than during the Cold War. […] It could take many years for the relationship to improve.

The entire speech is available in English from the ministry’s website. Some of the arguments are simplistic, and it always makes me reluctant when anybody claims to represent “freedom”. But the minister is absolutely correct in stating that the situation is dangerous, and that it will take a long time to improve the relationship.

Ukraine’s military suffers from corruption

In Ukraine, the military is suffering under corruption. Andrew Higgins has a good piece in The New York Times about the movement of large-scale corruption from the gas business to military procurement:

Nearly four years into a grinding war against rebels armed by Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry proudly announced last month that it had improved its previously meager medical services for its wounded troops with the purchase and delivery of 100 new military ambulances.

Not mentioned, however, was that many of the ambulances had already broken down. Or that they had been sold to the military under a no-bid contract by an auto company owned by a senior official in charge of procurement for Ukraine’s armed forces. Or that the official, Oleg Gladkovskyi, is an old friend and business partner of Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko.

In 2011, a Russian submarine was close to nuclear disaster in drydock

Kyle Mizokami for Popular Mechanics:

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin has admitted that a December 2011 incident involving a nuclear missile submarine almost became one of the worst nuclear weapons disasters ever recorded.

The Ekaterinburg, a ballistic missile submarine, caught fire in drydock, threatening its load of liquid-fueled nuclear missiles. If the missiles had caught fire, then the resulting explosions would have spewed radioactivity over a wide area, threatening a nearby town of 300,000 people.

There are many reasons for unloading a ship’s weapons before docking, and this is one of them.

Let’s hope insurgents don’t learn basic infantry skills

Why is it that Western infantry has been so dominant in battle during counterinsurgency operations? The casualty numbers are exceptionally unequally distributed between Western forces and the insurgents.

Conventional wisdom attributes a lot of importance on superior technology such as air superiority, surveillance systems, precision munitions, command-and-control systems, and night vision capabilities. But what if the most essential advantage is something as mundane as basic infantry skills?

That is the subject of this highly interesting article by Leo Blanken, Kai Thaxton, and Mike Alexander in War on the Rocks. The authors provide some rather convincing examples that this may be the case.

If the ability of groups to coordinate movements and fire is the most important factor in infantry battle, then it is fundamentally a question of learning before insurgents can inflict much more pain than they used to. And in that case we may want to scrutinize our training missions around the world to make sure that we are careful about who learns what.

New report on Germany’s troubled equipment status

Deutsche Welle:

Many primary weapons systems in the Bundeswehr are not available for training exercises or deployment, according to a new Defense Ministry study.

The “Report on the Operational Readiness of the Bundeswehr’s Primary Weapons Systems 2017,” which has been seen by the Reuters news agency and the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland media group, is set to be presented to Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, on Wednesday.

Number of weapon systems ready for action:
– Eurofighter jet airplanes: 39 of 128
– Tornado jet airplanes: 26 of 93
– CH-53 transport helicopters: 16 of 72
– NH-90 transport helicopters: 13 of 58
– Tiger helicopters: 12 of 62
– A400M transport planes: 3 of 15
– Leopard 2 tanks: 105 of 224
– Navy frigates: 5 of 13

So Germany cannot get their NH90 working either.

U.S. Nuclear Posture Review misses the point on Russia

Nuclear Posture Review cover pageThe Pentagon published its Nuclear Posture Review for 2018 (NPR) earlier in February. It dramatically changes some assumptions about nuclear weapons that were laid out in the previous NPR from 2010.

The new NPR concludes that there has been a deterioration in international relations with a return to great power competition and a more complex threat environment. This causes the Pentagon to advise an ambitious plan to enhance the nuclear capabilities of the United States.

Of special interest is the American focus on Russia’s so-called escalate-to-deescalate strategy. The idea is that Russia would escalate a conflict to intimidate the West into accepting peace on Russia’s terms. According to the NPR this has lowered the nuclear threshold because Russia will use non-strategic nuclear weapons to achieve this goal. The West does not have the same arsenal of non-strategic nuclear weapons as Russia, and according to the NPR this may lead Russia to believe that they could get away with a small scale nuclear attack. Therefore the NPR suggests an increased focus on establishing an American arsenal of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

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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 flot.com 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.

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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.