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5 Turkish Weapons of War Russia Should Fear

The Buzz

Syria was a major source of tension between Turkey and Russia even before a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24 on the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24. Since the start of the Syrian Civil War in early 2011, Russia and Iran have backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States, has supported anti-Assad rebels.

After Assad’s forces downed a Turkish RF-4 reconnaissance plane over the Mediterranean in June 2012, Ankara implemented new rules of engagement with dubious legal standing against Damascus. For the past three-and-a-half years, Turkey has brought down more than half a dozen Syrian fighter jets, helicopters and UAVs for allegedly violating its airspace.

The latest incident is a culmination of that tug-of-war and Turkey’s desire to help its clients in Syria. Following the arrival of the Russian air contingent on Syria’s Mediterranean coast in September 2015, one Russian aircraft briefly violated Turkish airspace, a Syrian MiG-29 locked on Turkish F-16s flying inside Turkey and the Turks shot down what is believed to be a Russian-made UAV within their territory on October 16.

During these episodes, Russian Air Force assets meant to show the Turks that their support for anti-Assad rebels was not welcome. For Turkey, putting pressure on Russian air operations in Syria was a way to reassure the rebel groups under its aegis to keep fighting the Assad regime.

Because of Turkey’s NATO membership and better access to the Syrian battle space, and Russia’s immense military superiority, an all-out war between the two sides is unlikely. Still, limited engagements similar to the November 24 incident are possible—especially after the Russian General Staff announced a more aggressive posture against the Turks. Turkey, however, enjoys impressive military assets that could make life difficult for Russia.

To that end, this article covers the five most dangerous Turkish weapon systems that should give Russia a moment of pause before it escalates tensions. Just like its forthcoming counterpart discussing the five Russian weapons that Turkey should fear, the article covers the weapons that Turks might use in a limited engagement in Syria and the eastern Mediterranean. As such, Russia’s ballistic missile capabilities or U.S. tactical nukes based in Turkey will not be part of the analysis—they are virtually useless in a limited engagement.

F-16 multirole fighter and AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM)

The Turkish Air Force (TuAF) has nearly 250 F-16 aircrafts in its inventory, thirty of which are of the Block 50+ type. Block 50+ is the latest variant of the F-16, a combat-proven fourth-generation multirole fighter. Turkey has produced (with a U.S. license) and operated different variants of the F-16 since the mid-1980s, giving the TuAF considerable skill and experience with the “Fighting Falcon” in every scenario possible.

The U.S.-made AIM-120 missile with which the Turks shot down the Russian Su-24 on Nov. 24 is a deadly partner to the F-16. With an operational range of nearly thirty nautical miles (fifty kilometers), the AIM-120 turns the F-16 into a serious threat against the highly trained and well-equipped Russian Air Force.

KORAL Ground-Based Jammer

The KORAL transportable radar jammer system is the Turkish military’s latest addition to its electronic warfare capabilities. Designed by Turkey’s state-owned Aselsan Corporation, this electronic defense/electronic attack system is designed to jam and deceive conventional and complex types of hostile radar, and analyzes multiple target signals in a wide frequency range, automatically generating appropriate response thanks to its digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) capability. With an effective range in excess of ninety miles (about 150 kilometers), KORAL reportedly could jam and deceive any land, sea and airborne radar systems. This new system could deny situational awareness to the Russians, thicken their fog of war and blind their weapons systems that would otherwise pose a threat to the Turkish military.

Gür-class submarines

Turkish Naval Forces possess four Gür-class submarines, which are considered one of the best diesel-electric submarines in the world. Based on the German firm HDW’s export-oriented Type 209 T2/1400 models, the Gürs are armed with submarine-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles (UGM-84), as well as the British-made Tigerfish and German-made DM2A4 heavy torpedoes. The Turkish submarines are also equipped with state-of-the-art detection and targeting systems, which turn these platforms into silent and deadly hunters that would threaten the Russian surface action group positioned in the eastern Mediterranean. Given the Syria-based Russian naval task force’s shortcomings in anti-submarine warfare (ASW), the Gür submarines give immense leverage to the Turkish side.

Ada-class stealth corvettes

Turkey’s Ada-class stealth corvettes are another naval platform that present a lethal challenge to Russian surface action groups and supply ships operating in the Mediterranean. Designed and produced by Turkish personnel, Adas are equipped with 8 Harpoon Block II missiles, OtoMelara Super Rapid three-inch cannons and other armaments. These highly stealthy ships have extremely reduced radar, IR and acoustic signatures, and they are backed by a low probability of intercept (LPI) radar that could sneak up to Russian surface vessels and deliver a lethal blow.

SAT Naval Commandos

SAT (Sualtı Taarruz Timleri/Underwater Assault Teams) are the Turkish Armed Forces' most elite special forces unit. Turkish SATs operate in every environment. They can infiltrate behind enemy lines from the air, land or sea to raid high-value targets, create diversions or attack port facilities and anchored ships. These combat divers are direct action units par excellence. Especially in a limited conflict, Turkish SATs would perform deadly clandestine operations against Syrian coastal infrastructure and Russian vessels operating in the Mediterranean.

We hope that Turkey and Russia de-escalate tensions in Syria. A war, even one limited in scope, would be too hurtful to both sides. But if Ankara and Moscow were to take things to the next level, these five weapons would give the Turkish side some unique advantages.

Bleda Kurtdarcan is a lecturer at Galatasaray University School of Law in Istanbul, where he teaches public international law. He obtained his Ph.D. from Galatasaray University in 2014 and his LLM from Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne in 2005. He specializes in law of armed conflict, law of the sea, maritime security, and the privatization of military services.

Barın Kayaoğlu is an independent political analyst and consultant in Washington, D.C., where writes and comments for U.S. and international media outlets. Barın finished his doctorate in history at the University of Virginia in 2014, and he is currently turning his dissertation into a book, tentatively titled Loving and Hating America: U.S. Diplomacy, Modernization, and the Origins of Pro- and Anti-American Sentiment in Turkey and Iran. You can follow him on, Twitter (@barinkayaoglu), and Facebook (Barın Kayaoğlu).

Image: Flickr/UK Ministry of Defence

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Get Ready: Russia's Lethal S-400 Air Defense System Is Headed to Syria

The Buzz

Russia will deploy the powerful S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defense system to its base in Latakia, Syria, as part of its response to Turkey shooting down one its Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer bombers.

Meanwhile, Russia is also moving the missile cruiser Moskva, which is armed with a naval version of the much-feared S-300 missile system called the Fort (Rif-M)­—to the Syrian coast near the Turkish border. Additionally, the Russian defense ministry has stated that, henceforth, all Russian strike aircraft will be escorted by fighters—which likely means additional Sukhoi Su-30SM Flankers could be deployed to the region.

“The S-400 air defense missile system will be brought to the Hmeimim base at the decision of the commander-in-chief,” Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu said on Wednesday according to TASS.

Earlier on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, chief of the main operational directorate of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, said that all military contacts with Turkey would be suspended. He also announced additional Russian security measures.

“First: All the activities of the attack aviation will be carried out only under cover of fighter aircraft,” Rudskoy said. “Second: Air defense will be reinforced. For that purpose, the Moskva cruiser equipped with air defense system Fort analogous to the S-300 one will go to the shore zone of Latakia. Russian Defense Ministry warns that all the potentially dangerous targets will be destroyed.”

The addition of the S-400 is significant and will complicate both American and Turkish air operations. Once the powerful air and missile defense system is deployed, only the American F-22, F-35 and B-2 stealth aircraft can operate safely inside a zone protected by the weapon for any length of time.

According to manufacturer Almaz-Antey, the S-400 “baseline” system can engage targets at ranges of more than 155 miles at altitudes up to 90,000ft. Also of note,  the S-400 can support at least three types of missiles with differing capabilities. According to Western sources, some versions of those missiles are capable of engaging targets as far way as 250 miles. The S-400 can track 300 targets simultaneously and engage thirty-six of those at any one time. Russia’s deployment of the weapon in Latakia means that it could attack aircraft flying deep inside Turkish airspace from within Syria.

The S-300 system onboard Moskva is also an extremely capable system that is similar to the S-400, but not quite as potent. One of the missile types supported by the Rif-M system—which is also deployed onboard Moscow’s Kirov-class nuclear-powered battlecruisers—can engage targets out to 95 miles at altitudes up to 90,000ft. The system can engage half-a-dozen targets with up to twelve missiles simultaneously. Moskva can carry up to sixty-four missiles for its Rif-M weapon system.

Meanwhile, more information is becoming available about the downing of the Russian Su-24M Fencer. According to the Turkish side, the aircraft violated the country’s airspace for about seventeen seconds. The Russians have, meanwhile, released a map that shows that the Su-24 did not cross the border. Moreover, the surviving Russian pilot—Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin—told Russian TV that his jet did not cross the border and received no warnings. Meanwhile, U.S. officials told Reuters that they believe that the Turkish shot the Russian Su-24 down inside Syria after it briefly crossed the border.

Even if one accepts the Turkish side of the story at face value, at least some of Ankara’s NATO allies say that there were less inflammatory ways to deal with the situation. “There are other ways of dealing with these kinds of incidents,” one NATO diplomat told the Reuters . Turkey, meanwhile, is doubling down on its rhetoric. “No one should expect us to remain silent when our border security and our sovereignty are being violated,” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech.

Meanwhile, despite the tough talk, the Russian and Turkish sides appear to be attempting to de-escalate the situation—though another incident would likely scupper that. Earlier today, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke via phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.  

While the Turkish foreign ministry stated that the two would meet in Belgrade, Russia's Interfax news agency said Lavrov had not agreed to meet according to Reuters. The Russian believe that the downing of the Su-24 was premeditated attack and are reconsidering the relationship with the Turks. Nonetheless, “we have no intention of fighting a war with Turkey,” Lavrov said.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Creative Commons. 

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The War on ISIS: 6 Issues to Ponder Before Escalating the Fight

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The recent attacks in Paris have spurred a flood of demands to escalate the fight against ISIS. Now that the initial shock is over, it is time to explore in greater detail what such efforts should look like if their results are not to prove worse than the threat that ISIS currently poses. The following is an attempt to sketch a number of questions that should be pondered before a decision to further escalate the war is taken.

First, do the western potential partners to a “coalition of the willing” to defeat ISIS have the stomach for this fight? An effective war on ISIS requires capabilities and determination. Capabilities include both material resources and creativity in using them: high quality tactical and operational intelligence and planning as well as strategic thinking and the capacity to execute effectively the conclusions of such thinking. The defense communities of western countries are not lacking such capabilities. But do leaders and publics in the west have the determination to sustain the human and material costs of such a war?

When fighting is confined to the use of airpower to bomb targets from high altitudes in order to reduce the risk that an airman will be captured by ISIS – no matter that the likelihood of killing innocent civilians is far greater when bombs are dropped from such heights – what does this tell us about the will to take on ISIS?

President Barack Obama’s conspicuous reluctance to deploy a significant number of servicemen and servicewomen on the ground resulted not from an under-estimation of the threat that ISIS poses but rather from the president’s judgment about America: his assessment that the American people will not accept the casualties and expenditures of another massive and sustained effort in the Middle East. Yet if Obama’s premise is correct, the promise to “degrade and destroy” ISIS will continue to ring hollow and it is U.S. deterrence – not ISIS – that will be degraded.

Moreover, the post-Paris inclination to increase the efforts to fight ISIS will be self-defeating if these fall short of the deployments needed to achieve the latter’s destruction. Indeed, without crushing ISIS such an increase will merely confirm ISIS’s narrative – its version of the “clash of civilizations” that pits the western “crusaders” against their Arab and other Muslim victims. Thus the west will pay all the costs associated with larger deployments and the Middle East will experience even greater destruction associated with the use of American, British, French and Russian airpower without meaningful gains.

Second, do the potential Middle Eastern partners have the will for a significantly enhanced against ISIS? So far, these states have shown very limited determination to sustain such a fight.


Because ISIS comprises the # 2 priority of many of the region’s states but with the possible exception of Iran, it is the # 1 priority of none. Saudi Arabia and some of the GCC states perceive Iran to be their main threat. For Turkey the greater fear seems to be the perceived threat of Kurdish separatism. For the Egyptian government it is the Muslim Brotherhood and local ISIS affiliates such as Beit al-Makdis. For most Sunni Iraqis it is the Shi’a dominated Iran-influenced government in Baghdad. And for Israel it is the Lebanese’ Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Unless these countries become persuaded that their number one  threat is ISIS, it will remain impossible to create a regional contingency of an effective “coalition of the willing” to defeat and destroy it.  

Third, can ISIS be defeated without the successful waging of a “war of ideas”? ISIS has had remarkable success in inspiring young men and women from the Middle East and North Africa, Russia, Europe and the U.S. to join its ranks, whether as fighters or as functionaries in their Caliphate. This success cannot be reversed without engaging ISIS’s extremist ideology, debunking the efficacy of its Armageddon-type ethos, and demonstrating that it violates the letter and spirit of Islam. This is critically important even if engaging with the theological aspects of ISIS is irrelevant to the more urgent task of dislodging ISIS from its territorial base in Syria and Iraq.

Fourth, could the “day after” ISIS defeat be even worse than the challenges it currently poses? If the success in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan has taught us anything, it is that there can be no greater folly than to fail to devote sufficient thought to the “day after.” For Europe, Russia, and the U.S. the Caliphate’s defeat may prove an even greater challenge than its current terror attacks. This is so because during the last few years, thousands of ISIS fighters have gained combat experience fighting some truly tough adversaries – particularly the Kurds.

In the aftermath of ISIS’s defeat, those among its ranks who will not be killed or captured will be heading home, to the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, Belgium, and scores of other countries. Many will have no way to do so other than to cross through Turkish territory – another nightmare for Ankara. Upon their return, some may have the capability and will to take revenge by engaging in various forms of terrorism in their home countries. Others will wait to join new terror organizations that will be formed in the aftermath of ISIS’s defeat, just as Al-Qaeda in Iraq has morphed into ISIS. Thus, a strategy for defeating ISIS that does not include a chapter on managing the risks of the post-ISIS environment is surely bound to prove self-defeating.

While the West has not even begun to think of mitigating the risks in the aftermath of ISIS’s defeat, Middle Eastern countries and Russia are already obsessed with this issue. Indeed, another reason why an effective “coalition of the willing” to defeat ISIS has not emerged thus far is that these countries deeply disagree about the region’s desirable future in the aftermath of an ISIS defeat. Moreover, some of these countries are so mesmerized by the prospects of thousands of combat hardened ISIS alumni that they may prefer that ISIS be contained within ever smaller enclaves in Syria and Iraq rather than be entirely dislodged. This may be especially true for Russia for whom the return of ISIS veterans to Chechnya and the Caucuses may be a much bigger nightmare than a contained Caliphate. In that case, we may be dealing with a case of massive hypocrisy: many of the governments that currently profess to be committed to ISIS’s defeat may much prefer to see ISIS contained but not destroyed.

If competing visions and interests regarding a post-ISIS Middle East is currently paralyzing the efforts to build a “coalition of the willing,” it is essential that diplomatic efforts to negotiate the construction of such a coalition focus on this topic: can the gaps between these different visions be reduced? Can the interests of the countries that are candidates for membership in such a coalition be made to better align?

Fifth, is it not time to rethink the role of Russia and Iran? It seems almost self-evident that the suggested reexamination of the various parties’ interests and of their possible better realignment should include rethinking the role of these two countries. Such rethinking might include showing greater empathy to the challenges and predicaments that these two countries face. This has not been the case thus far – President Obama has not shown nearly the same level of sympathy to the Russian lives lost by ISIS’s bombing of the Metro Jet plane in the Sinai as he has shown in reaction to the Paris attacks.   

For some members of the possible “coalition of the willing” the suggested rethinking requires a complete about face – from regarding these two players as a big part of the problem to considering them as part of the solution. Yet the potential benefits of persuading Iran and Russia to play a more constructive role are enormous. In the case of Moscow, these benefits may extend far beyond the Middle East, as they may open the road to a new grand bargain with the west aimed at significantly reducing the odds of escalation to a nuclear war with Russia over the Baltics and the Ukraine.   

Finally, can the defeat of ISIS be meaningful and sustainable without restoring the deteriorated Middle East states? It is difficult to see how a defeated ISIS can be prevented from simply morphing into another terror organization without a restoration of the region’s state system. This does not imply that the region should remain wedded to its existing regimes. Indeed, there are good reasons to suspect that the failure of many of these regimes to meet the minimal expectations of their constituencies has created the “breeding ground” for terrorism to flourish. But it probably means that the region’s states must be restored as unitary actors that enjoy a monopoly of force, that the institutions of state must be rebuilt to respond to their citizens’ expectations, and that these states must have defined, well marked and well protected boundaries that would make it more difficult to import and export violence across the region.

Without addressing these six questions convincingly, escalating the fighting against ISIS may make as much sense as did the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Shai Feldman is the Judith and Sidney Swartz Director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and is a member of the Board of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Image: U.S. Army/Flickr. 

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The U.S.-China Relationship: War, Peace or Just Troubled Times Ahead?

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The recent freedom of navigation operation undertaken by the USS Lassen in the South China Sea advertises a new sharper edge to U.S.–China relations.

Some analysts have begun to write about a ‘tipping point’ in the relationship (see here and here); media reports sometimes talk of a relationship in crisis. It’s not that bad—yet—but things are getting more serious. To see why, we need to look at the broader regional landscape and then fit U.S.–China relations into that. The U.S.–China bilateral relationship is undoubtedly the region’s most important, but Asia’s no G2—it’s a large theatre with no common front line and a high level of economic interdependence.

Indeed, we’re moving into a world of uneven multipolarity in Asia. It’s easiest to see the shift by using a long baseline: compare the relative weightings of the major players in 1995 with what they are now. In 1995 U.S. preponderance was so marked that all other players looked like minions. But 20 years later we see an Asia characterized by a number of strong players: China, Japan and India in the top tier; South Korea, Australia, Indonesia in the second tier; and a range of regional states—like Vietnam—in fast-growing Southeast Asia.

Still, power relativities are shifting more than regional order. Japan’s determined to add some cross-bracing to the current order, seeing that as offering the legitimacy it needs for a larger role. India doesn’t have the influence or the wish to redesign the East Asian order: its growing gravitational weight is still felt most in the Indian Ocean and on the subcontinent. And China’s strategic vision still emphasises a Great Wall, a set of deferential neighbors, and a smaller U.S. presence in proximity to the Wall. But China doesn’t like the current order, which was built at a time when it was weak. It doesn’t believe that, in the long run, the Asian regional order should be shaped in Washington.

The second-tier players are generally too weak to promote their own visions of an Asian order. South Korea and Australia are, in any event, both U.S. allies. Indonesia isn’t, but—like most ASEAN states—it’s disposed to prefer either U.S. primacy to Chinese hegemony or (at worst) a stable great-power equipoise in a peaceful multipolar Asia.

The U.S. is attempting a ‘rebalance’ to Asia. But Washington’s conscious of its global obligations (including to Europe and the Middle East), weary after 14 years of effort post-9/11, and keen to address a range of domestic issues. It knows too that even a successful rebalance won’t restore the U.S. to the degree of primacy it enjoyed in the 1990s.

So in the long run, the US seeks a modus vivendi with a rising, peaceful China. The two countries’ annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue and growing trade figures underline that objective (bilateral trade has grown by 7,550% 1985-2014). But read Lawrence Summers’ latest piece for The Washington Post: “the world—including China—is unprepared for China’s rise.” Summers believes the U.S. still has serious questions to answer in relation to the relationship. Does it want a more prosperous China or a less prosperous one? Does it have a coherent picture of its preferences in terms of China’s policy choices? Does it have a sensible picture of future architectural arrangements?

Similar questions exist in the strategic field: does the U.S. want a stronger China whose weight is felt more around the region or a weaker China whose weight is felt less? For the U.S.—and Australia—the answer, of course, varies depending on what sort of great power China turns out to be. In the South China Sea we see a coercive power, not a consultative one—a power unwilling to accept international arbitration. Nationalism’s a potent driver in Chinese foreign policy at the moment. Moreover, China’s growing weight is felt most starkly along the Eurasian rimlands, in ways that are corrosive of the current strategic order. The contests in the East China Sea and South China Sea aren’t really about rocks—they’re about hierarchy in a future regional security environment.

And there’s a second level of complication: the U.S. and China have to work out their relationship in full view of the region—a region which includes a number of U.S. allies who don’t want the U.S. to treat China as a peer. They worry that its doing so would imply a marginalization of the hub-and-spokes structure.

The good news is that the Thucydides ‘trap’ isn’t inevitable: rising powers aren’t doomed to clash with established ones. Economic interdependence and nuclear weapons lessen the prospects of war. And military manoeuvring in the South China Sea is still about ‘signalling’, not conflict. But the bad news is that some form of clash seems increasingly likely. The U.S. can’t move to offshore balancing without spooking its own allies; but China’s idea of the U.S. as an ‘outsider’ implies just such a shrinking role for the U.S. in Asia. Troubled waters lie ahead.

Rod Lyon is a senior fellow at ASPI, where this piece first appeared.

Image: U.S. Navy/Flickr. 

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Turkey Shootdown: Russian Air Power has Issues, but Campaign has Been Decisive

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News that a Russian strike aircraft has been shot down by Turkey has again focused attention on Russia's air campaign in Syria, which began in late September. The Russians deployed a small but decisive air and naval force to side with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to protect his regime and, specifically, the city of Damascus.

While the Russian Air Force deployment to Syria has undoubtedly complicated the air operations of the US-led coalition, the coalition's significant advantage in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and its ability to use extensive air-to-air refueling assets, mean that its air forces can easily 'deconflict' (that is, reduce the risk of the collision by co-ordinating movements) their operations from those of the Russians.

The ability of assets like the RAAF Wedgetail, the US Air Force E-3, and other ISR aircraft to identify and classify Russian aircraft activity from the time they launch from their Syrian bases means they can be identified and tracked throughout their entire mission. If crews on board an  aircraft like Wedgetail see a potential for imminent confliction, coalition aircraft can be moved out of the way until the Russians complete their operations.

However, deconfliction is far more of a concern for the Russians than the coalition. While the Russians have deployed very capable Su-30 fighters to protect and enhance the situational awareness of their strike aircraft,  the Russians do not have the ability to put together an integrated view of their operating battlespace, as the overnight downing of a Russian Su-24 strike aircraft likely demonstrates. They have little or no idea where coalition aircraft and UAVs are operating, and have little ability to put together a coherent picture of US-led air operations.

On all missions, the level of Russian situational awareness would be significantly lower than their coalition counterparts. As well as Turkish air power, the US Air Force's F-22s would be a significant concern to the Russian Air Force in any confrontation with the coalition.

Russia's air campaign has been effective and decisive:

Nevertheless, Russia has waged an effective air campaign against forces opposed to the Assad regime. In fact, it could be argued that the Russians have shown a better overall strategy for the employment of air power than the US-led coalition.

In contrast to coalition air forces, Russia has been unconstrained by the legacy of 10 years of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. The tactical micromanagement of each strike sortie, and a total lack of freedom of action given to coalition aircrew, have made it impossible for coalition air planners to put together a coherent air campaign to defeat ISIS.

The coalition's formidable capability is being significantly underused because of self-imposed constraints. Contrast this to the Russian experience; in less than seven days, the Russians were flying more than 60 sorties per day, a very high rate given the modest force Russia deployed. And in the execution of its air campaign in northern Syria against militant groups opposed to the Assad regime, the Russians have used air power decisively in a way the US-led coalition has not.

Russia's quiet military revolution:

While the use of warships and, more recently, strategic bombers to launch cruise missiles to hit targets in Syria is largely symbolic, with the intention to demonstrate Russian capability to the world, the October air strikes were Russia's first operational use of precision-guided munitions, and thus underscore Russia's quiet military revolution. This  transformation has been a result of far-reaching military reforms to create more professional and combat ready armed forces that can swiftly deploy abroad.

In the past, the Russian armed forces needed months to gear up for a military confrontation. They have now shown the ability to react quickly and strike without warning.

The first serious round of Russian reform started in late 2008 after the Georgian campaign, and concentrated on increasing the overall level of professionalism in the Russian forces. There has been reform of the education and training of Russian armed forces personnel and a significant reduction in the number of conscripts.

After the education reforms were put in place, the Russians concentrated on increasing the combat readiness of the force by streamlining the command structure and increasing the number and complexity of training exercises.

The third phase of the reform was to rearm and update equipment. Many Western analysts have concentrated on this phase and have been dismissive of Russian capability because it still remains a work in progress. In doing that, we have ignored the success of the first two stages, which have already given the Russians a far more effective and combat-ready military.

So while the Russians lack modern air-to-air refueling and ISR assets, they have shown a good grasp of how to use modern air power effectively to achieve strategic results. In many respects, Western analysts have dangerously underestimated Russia's reformed military capacity.

Geoff Brown was Australia’s Chief of Air Force for four years until his retirement in mid 2015. Prior to this, he commanded at all levels of the Air Force, including as the Commander Air Combat Group.  During Australia’s 2003 contribution to the war in Iraq, he commanded all F/A-18 and C 130 operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

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China Is Setting Up Its First Military Base in Africa

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The People’s Republic of China is setting up its first military base in Africa as it continues its evolution into a global superpower. Beijing has signed a ten-year leasing agreement with Djibouti to build a logistical hub in that nation, which is located in the Horn of Africa.

“They are going to build a base in Djibouti, so that will be their first military location in Africa," U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, recently told defense reporters according to The Hill’s Kristina Wong.  

It was only a matter of time before China set up overseas bases in the region. Beijing has enormous economic interests in the region that it needs to protect. China has set up deals to supply its growing economy—which even as it slows down is expanding at close to seven percent per annum—with raw materials.

According to the Economist, China is the African continent’s biggest trading partner with trade worth more than $160 billion per year. Over the past decade, more than a million Chinese laborers and merchants have move to Africa to work. Essentially, Africa ships raw material to China, which is then exported back as finished products.

China has somewhat of an advantage in competing for business in Africa because it does not have any intention or desire to impose its values on the locals or their governments. As such Chinese investments don’t come with any strings attached in terms of human rights or governance. But there has been some backlash from African civil society groups and even some African leaders. Indeed, Lamido Sanusi—Nigeria’s former central bank governor—told the Economist that Africa is opening itself up to a “new form of imperialism.”

Beijing is apparently trying to address the criticism according to the Mail & Guardian—  a South African paper. In this year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) China is expected to start offering more access to capital for local African companies. Indeed, the Chinese Export-Import Bank extended $62.7 billion in loans to African countries from 2001 to 2010, according to the paper. The Chinese are also focusing more efforts on publicizing their efforts to create jobs for local Africans. It’s also making more of an effort to comply with local regulations.

The Chinese public relations offensive combined with its new base means that Beijing is in Africa for the long haul. Going forward in the years to come, Beijing could edge out Western influence in the region and secure access to the continent’s vast mineral resources for itself.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAfrica

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Warplane (And Any Hope of Safe Zones)

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Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane, which probably breached Turkish airspace on Tuesday, effectively killed any hope of effective international cooperation in establishing safe zones in Syria.

Unfortunately, an incident like this one was imminent, if not overdue. Turkey had repeatedly complained last month of Russian incursions into its airspace, prompting NATO to condemn the “extreme danger” posed by these violations of sovereignty. Turkey had also explicitly warned Russia that it was prepared to defend its territory. In meetings with the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davtoglu said that Turkish pilots were instructed to intercept any Russian aircraft which entered Turkey.

Ironically, Turkey may have also shot itself in the foot by killing any hope of a no-fly/safe zone in Syria – a policy it had long been advocating but one which was of extremely questionable viability. Turkey’s plan had sought to reinforce friendly rebel groups in northern Syria to the point where they would be able to completely force the Islamic State out of a swath of Aleppo province and then establish a no-fly zone over that area. It had struggled to sell this idea to its NATO allies who raised a number of questions and concerns over the affiliations of the Turkish-backed rebel groups and their ability to effectively secure these spaces on the ground. The United States and its partners in the coalition against ISIS also had been extremely wary of any plans which could place them in direct confrontation with Russia and their strategic objectives in Syria.

Indeed, Tuesday’s incident underscored the fact that the presence of Russian troops in Syria at the behest of the Assad regime has fundamentally altered the nature of the conflict. If any no-fly zone were to be implemented, it would need to be in coordination with Vladimir Putin, who has scant incentive to approve such a plan. Establishing a no-fly zone would not only jeopardize the gains the Assad regime forces have made with the backing of Russian airpower, but it could also hamper Putin’s efforts to strike back at the Islamic State in retaliation for its bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt last month.

Tuesday’s incident will likely make Putin even less disposed to be open to such a plan, as his promised reprisals will probably come in the form of strikes against Turkish-backed groups in Syria rather than against Turkey itself. Though the United States had made strides in de-escalation talks with Russia, relations between Turkey and Russia were already icy before Tuesday with the two harboring demonstrably different strategic objectives in the conflict. Now, any hope of bringing the two parties to the table to discuss the establishment of safe zones in Syria has effectively been quashed, making the Obama administration’s earlier decision to shelve the idea of safe zones seem prescient.

Kevin Reagan is a Resident Junior Fellow at the Center for the National Interest.

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr. 

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The Real Cost of America's "Made in China" Addiction

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The National Interest Crouching Tiger Series: Buy Made In China, Weaken National Security? from Peter Navarro on Vimeo.

At the next two presidential debates – the Republicans square off in Nevada and the Democrats duel in New Hampshire – this question should be put to every candidate by the CNN and ABC moderators:

Will you buy any Made in China gifts for the holiday season? If not, why not?

In fact, this is as much a national security question as it is an economic one. Here’s why.

This Black Friday weekend, American consumers will add billions of dollars to the US trade deficit as they binge on Made in China holiday gifts.  The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will then use some of the profits from this China trade to continue building what will soon become, if not the most technologically advanced military in the world, then certainly the most heavily equipped. 

In a perfect world, we would realize buying illegally subsidized Made in China products not only costs the American economy the jobs, factories, shipyards, and tax revenues its needs to build a strong military. We would also be mindful that our Made in China addiction helps the PLA build the weapons it increasingly aims against us and American soil. 

Just why are our political leaders so utterly failing to connect these Made in China economic and military dots?  The answer may be found in two competing ideologies, each of which works at cross-purposes to crafting sound China policies.

Consider, for example, Liberal Democrats like Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. They tend to be hawks on unfair trade practices and take a tough line on Chinese mercantilism.  However, these LibDems also strongly favor the butter of social welfare programs over more guns to defend America from the likes of Xi Jinping’s China and Putin’s Russia.  Here, the very real power of Bernie Sanders has been to move a nervous, poll-watching Hillary Clinton farther to the Left on these issues.

As for Conservative Republicans, they are equally hamstrung on China but for the exact opposite reason. These ConReps tend to be hawks on defense and take a tough line on Chinese aggression. However, they are also free traders who take a soft line on unfair Chinese trade practices like currency manipulation and illegal export subsidies.  This soft on trade policy conservative posture has thereby allowed a mercantilist China to have its way with our manufacturing base.  

Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are the poster child twins of this counter-productive conservatism. While each has been hawkishly quick to rattle the China sword in the face of Beijing’s South China Sea aggression, each has a long history of opposing any Donald Trump-like crackdown on unfair Chinese trade practices like currency manipulation.

In the Crouching Tiger book and film series, I try to square these ideological circles on the Left and Right by illustrating the critical connections between a strong manufacturing base, a vibrant economy, a solid tax base, and ultimately a military powerful and ready enough to defend U.S. interests against the rise of authoritarian and revanchist nations like China and Russia.  One of the most important insights in this Crouching Tiger effort comes from former White House advisor Stefan Halper.

In a landmark Pentagon study, Halper documents China’s growing reliance on its non-kinetic “Three Warfares,” what he calls “a dynamic three-dimensional warfighting process that constitutes war by other means.”  To Halper, the Three Warfares are particularly important to Beijing’s revanchism in an era in which it is increasingly difficult to use kinetic military force to advance territorial goals. Indeed, as Russia’s adventurism in the Ukraine has demonstrated, unlawful kinetic force is likely to draw immediate condemnation and economic sanctions.

Viewed through Halper’s lens of the Three Warfares, China’s mercantilist attacks on America’s economy and manufacturing base are every bit as deadly as any Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile crashing into an American aircraft carrier in the Taiwan Strait or any covey of hypersonic glide vehicles smashing into the runways of Okinawa’s Kadena Air Force Base. Indeed, the closure of over 50,000 American factories at the hands of China’s unfair trade practices has done has much to strike a blow at America’s ability to produce the weapons systems it needs to defend itself as the wholesale slashing of military spending because of budget sequestration – and both phenomena are inextricably intertwined.

Ultimately, the problem America faces in coming to terms with a Rising China is a political one.  Here, Michael Pillsbury describes in blunt Madisonian “mischief of factions” terms the difficulty of building a coalition to meet what Bill Gertz accurately described over a decade ago as The China Threat.  Warns Pillsbury:

The eight or ten critical interest groups in America and their representatives in Congress will not cooperate. In fact, they hate each other and would rather oppose each other on broad philosophical grounds. Tax cuts are good, or tax cuts are bad.  Corporations are bad, or the labor unions are bad. They'd rather have this kind of bickering among themselves than focus on China as a challenge.

Perhaps a leader will emerge from this year’s bumper crop of presidential candidates who will lead us out of this bickering darkness and focus on the highly inter-related economic and military dangers of a Rising China. As for who that candidate will be, it certainly won’t be one buying any Made in China gifts for the holiday season.

Peter Navarro is a business professor at the University of California-Irvine and author of Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World (Prometheus Books). 

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

As Air-Sea Battle Becomes JAM-GC...Don't Forget Central and Eastern Europe

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While we don’t have all the details just yet, the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC), the successor to the hotly debated Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept, will not be an ‘all-Asia’ affair. The growing challenge to U.S. and allied forces known as Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) is spreading—thanks to Russia and Iran with Syria and even North Korea presenting A2/AD predicaments. As the Pentagon has alluded to, this new concept will be suitable for wherever A2/AD problems present themselves. This will include the Asia-Pacific, the Baltic and Black Seas, Eastern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond.  The Pentagon should not discount the value of such a reworked geographically and domain neutral ASB, especially to nations in Central and Eastern Europe who fear NATO forces might face serious problems in the event of a crisis with Russia—utilizing advanced A2/AD tactics and weapons platforms.

Air-Sea Battle: Born With An Emphasis on China:

Starting in the early to mid 2000s, Pentagon planners began to look beyond the carnage of Iraq and COIN focused operations to the threats of the future. Strategic planners saw trouble ahead if conflict were ever to develop with China in areas around the Taiwan Strait as well as in the East and South China Seas. Beijing was developing an array of various missile platforms—both ballistic and cruise—which placed U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups in harms way. Combined with growing capabilities in the areas of advanced submarines, naval mines, cyber warfare and air defense platforms, China was quickly developing a capability to deter, delay or deny any large outside power the capability to contest Beijing’s wishes in its adjoining near seas—and now all the way to the so-called first-island chain and possibly beyond. Dubbed Anti-Access/Area-Denial or A2/AD (called counter-intervention operations by China) U.S. and allied forces would be forced to make a critical choice in a crisis: enter into areas along China’s coasts and pay a punishing price in men and material or effectively secede control of any areas in Asia where Chinese A2/AD forces operate.

Realizing the danger presented by A2/AD, the Pentagon worked to create an operational concept that would allow U.S. and allied forces to retain their advantages on the battlefield and defeat any A2/AD challenge. While the rollout out was certainly clumsy—from a think-tank crafted document sketching out what ASB could look like in a war with China (and attacking the Chinese mainland) to the Pentagon embracing the name Air-Sea Battle (note: the dash is the difference between the think-tank inspired ASB and Pentagon ASB) and clearly gyrating around which nation or nations are the greatest threat—ASB was certainly on its way to largely dominating Pentagon thinking for years to come.

As ASB Becomes JAM-GC, The Domain and Geographic Scope of the Concept Must Change:

By the fall of last year, anyone who was watching the debate over ASB noticed that signs were pointing to changes in the concept. A2/AD challenges were proliferating around the world and becoming more advanced by the day. The Pentagon couldn’t embrace an ASB concept that was slowly becoming dated but also needed to tackle A2/AD challenges on land and in other theaters besides Asia—thanks at least in part to Russia’s slow but steady embrace of various types of A2/AD platforms and strategies.

While we know of the name change to JAM-GC, we know little specific details to date. However, the concept should provide both credible (deterrence) and effective (real fighting) U.S. capabilities in a variety of situations beyond the air and sea domains and not just in Asia. Such capabilities constitute the backbone of the current system of alliances and security architecture underpinned by the United States as a leading global power.

The new concept, which by all indications from open-source materials is in the final process of preparation, will likely include enhanced allied participation as well as an emphasis on ensuring control of the battlefield across all domains of possible conflict (land, air, sea, cyber and space).  

Four Recommendations from U.S. Allies in Central and Eastern Europe:

From a Central and Eastern European perspective, especially when one considers looking at potential A2/AD challenges from Russia, four possible recommendations for the new concept should be considered. These include:

- The strengthening of power projection capabilities—especially in the cyber realm where costs can be managed efficiently—while working to defend against A2/AD weapons platforms across as many domains as possible.

-Promote the creation of independent command, communication and control systems that will be less open to A2/AD attacks—with cyber defenses being of critical importance.

-The bolstering of fighting capabilities and defensive measures that would challenge Russia’s potential incursion or coercive actions along and across contested or potentially contested conflict zones—and across all domains of possible conflict.   

- U.S./NATO allies should be encouraged to develop their own A2/AD capabilities—what is good for Russia and China can be used against them. Special attention should be focused towards driving up the cost of Russian intervention in any and all contested domains that U.S. and/or NATO forces would have a possible chance of intervening in.

Towards a JAM-GC that Works for All—Especially Central and Eastern Europe:

The above points are of tremendous importance for all regional allies, but in particular for the landlocked countries of Eastern and Central Europe that have not yet fully been brought up to speed on the finer points of JAM-GC/ASB or adjusted their operational approaches to the A2/AD challenges of the future.  

For Eastern European allies, and most importantly Poland, such important partners must play a role in shaping the concept as it is molded to address A2/AD challenges coming from Russia. This new concept should use allies expertise to procure and field capabilities in line or concurrent with the way the U.S. wants to project power toward the remote edges of its traditionally perceived strategic power projection range - e.g. the Baltic States or Poland. In the wake of such participation some additional considerations could be added to Poland’s own operational concepts, military planning, basing and future procurement as envisaged by the current ambitious military modernization program.

While conflict with Russia seems remote, allied forces need to be ready for the challenges of the future—challenges that clearly will have an A2/AD focus. JAM-GC in its final form and as it evolves must take Central and Eastern European concerns into account. While early indications point to a multi-domain operational concept that is geographically neutral, Central and Eastern European nations must have their important perspectives considered—now and in the future.

Jacek Bartosiak is a Senior Fellow at the Potomac Foundation. Prior to joining the Potomac team in 2015, he served as Council at the National Centre for Strategic Studies (NCSS) in Warsaw, Poland, which he founded in 2013.

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

The Islamic State's Worst Nightmare: Russia and France Joining Forces

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Russia is claiming that its forces are cooperating with the French military as it ramps up its operations against the Daesh terrorist entity in Syria.

“In accordance with the orders of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, organization of cooperation with the French Armed Forces is started,” reads a Nov. 20 statement from the Russian ministry of defense.

However, France has not confirmed that the two nations’ militaries are coordinating their efforts against the terrorist group, which launched a deadly terrorist attack on Paris on Nov. 13 that killed over 130 people. But Russian president Vladimir Putin is set to host French president Francois Hollande in Moscow on Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 26. Military coordination between the two powers is not outside the realm of possibility.

“Whatever you think of the Russians, the fact is that they are the only ones able and willing to commit significant assets to the fight,” former French diplomat Simond de Galbert, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Politico today. “I think it’s difficult to blame the French for exploring [coordination with Russia], especially since President Obama has implied this week that the Paris attacks aren’t an event that justify altering the U.S. strategy in Syria.”

Meanwhile, Hollande is also set to meet with U.S. president Barack Obama in Washington tomorrow. The two leaders are expected to discuss a response to the Paris attacks. Hollande is likely to ask the United States to cooperate with Moscow.

“I think he’s going to ask, first off, for the United States to work more with Russia,” Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told CQ Roll Call.

But Obama has already stated that he’d only be willing to work with the Russians if they step away from backing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Obama is also likely reiterate Washington’s demands that the European Union maintain its sanctions regime against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Moreover, Obama is likely to demand that the French avoid hitting certain critical Daesh targets to avoid collateral damage. Indeed, three out of four American sorties flying over Iraq and Syria don’t drop ordinance because of directives from the White House.

Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. deputy national security adviser, told CQ Roll Call “that won’t be received very well by the French.” Obama is likely to “be reminded that the French have closely monitored civilian casualties caused by our drone strikes,” Abrams told the paper. Indeed, leaked U.S. documents show that U.S. drone strikes cause a lot of civilian casualties—indeed as many as ninety percent of those killed during such attacks are civilian bystanders according to a report from The Intercept.

Meanwhile, Russia is aggressively attacking Daesh’s oil facilities in Syria after more than doubling the size of its air contingent in Latakia to sixty-nine aircraft. Russia posted videos of its bombers destroying several such targets in on its defense ministry’s website. “In the course of the last five days, the Russian aircraft have destroyed over 1000 petrol tank vehicles, which had carried out transportation of crude oil to the plants controlled by the ISIS terrorists,” the Russian defense ministry states.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Creative Commons 2.0 License. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East