The Gulf crisis and future of Qatar’s military

by Paul Iddon

In any potential war pitting Qatar against the militaries of its Saudi and Emirati neighbours it’s clear Doha would face two adversaries with superior militaries, in terms of both quality and quantity.

A Qatari Emiri Air Force (QEAF) Dassault Mirage 2000-5. (Photo: US Air Force).

A Qatari Emiri Air Force (QEAF) Dassault Mirage 2000-5. (Photo: US Air Force).

The tiny resource-rich sheikdom, the wealthiest country in the world, has a relatively modest military made-up of a handful of French-made Mirage 2000s multi-role jets fighters and some aged light armor, also French-made.

The Saudis, on the other hand, have 72 Eurofighter Typhoons and 70 American-made F-15C Eagles (Riyadh has also ordered 84 lethal derivatives of the F-15E Strike Eagle) while the Emiratis have 80 F-16 Block 60 fighters. Riyadh’s armored forces have about 400 American-made M1 Abrams main battle tanks while Abu Dhabi has 388 French-made AMX Leclerc main battle tanks. Such firepower could devastate Doha’s armed forces were war to breakout.

Given this reality, and the fact its neighbours are prepared to blockade and threaten it to change its foreign policy, Qatar may shore up its military in the future to more adequately deter any potential attacks. It is already taking steps in this direction.

[T]he production of complex fighter jets will take a period of years. [Washington is] confident that Qatar can address its remaining issues within this timeframe, prior to delivery. — A U.S. State Department official cited by Foreign Policy.

Just last week the tiny sheikdom signed a $12 billion deal for F-15QA (Qatar Advanced) Eagle jet fighters, which one Qatari official said was “proof that US institutions are with us but we have never doubted that. […] Our militaries are like brothers. America’s support for Qatar is deep-rooted and not easily influenced by political changes.” (“This is proof that US institutions are with us: Qatar on fighter jets deal“, Business Standard, 15.07.2017).

In November 2016, Congress approved a sale of a whopping 72 F-15s to Qatar in a deal worth $21.1 billion, under this current deal Qatar is reportedly set to receive up to 36 of the warplanes. It’s unclear if they are connected or if the November deal was downsized.

One of the 24 SNIPER integrated Dassault Rafale jets ordered by Qatar undergoing flight trials in France. Along with 3 external fuel tanks the fighter jet is equipped with six GBU-12 laser-guided air-to-ground bombs, two air-to-air MICA IR missiles and two MICA EM (Photo: Swingwing / Defens'Aero).

One of the 24 SNIPER integrated Dassault Rafale jets ordered by Qatar undergoing flight trials in France. Along with 3 external fuel tanks the fighter jet is equipped with six GBU-12 laser-guided air-to-ground bombs, two air-to-air MICA IR missiles and two MICA EM (Photo: Swingwing / Defens’Aero)

The tiny sheikdom also completed a deal last year worth at least $6.9 billion to purchase 24 advanced Dassault Rafale jet fighters from France. “The deal has been made for the same number of jets purchased by Egypt in 2014, but the Qatari deal is priced higher due to the provision of long-range cruise missiles as well as Meteor [beyond-visual-range air-to-air] missiles,” Defense News reported. The Qatari Rafales are currently engaged in flight trials in France and will be delivered beginning in mid-2018.

One reason Qatar may have opted to buy fewer Eagles is the upcoming delivery of these Rafales. After all, an air force with 36 Eagles and 24 Rafales is an air force to be reckoned with, especially for such a tiny country.

The F-15QA jets are a variant of the Eagle built specifically for Qatar and are possibly similar, or identical, to the aforementioned Saudi F-15SA Strike Eagle derivative. “The proposed sale improves Qatar’s capability to meet current and future enemy air-to-air and air-to-ground threats,” a November Defense security Cooperation Agency news release on the proposed 72 Eagle deal stated. “Qatar will use the capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense. Qatar will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces.”

While most US press releases concerning arms sales to the Persian Gulf states note that such arms sales help deter Iran a brand new fleet of Qatari F-15s, bolstered by Rafales, may well be used to deter Saudi Arabia and the UAE as much, if not more so, than Tehran.

The November release claims, as such statements invariably do, that an influx of F-15s into the Qatari Emiri Air Force (QEAF) “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.” It also insists that US foreign policy and national security interests would be served “by helping to improve the security of a friendly country and strengthening our strategically important relationship.”

U.S. Air Force Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers at Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar (Photo: US Air Force).

U.S. Air Force Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers at Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar (Photo: US Air Force).

Qatar is indeed an important strategic US ally in the region. It’s home to the Al-Udeid airbase, the most significant airbase used by Washington in the Middle East outside of Incirlik in southeast Turkey. Al-Udeid may even exceed Incirlik in importance given its greater reliability of use. The present US relationship with Saudi Arabia, as illustrated by US President Donald Trump’s rather brash visit to the kingdom last month, is also important.

An armed standoff between two US allies and client states certainly would not be unprecedented. For decades the US has sold military hardware to its Greek and Turkish NATO allies in full recognition that many of these weapons have been used in standoffs between Athens and Ankara over the status of islands in the Aegean Sea. Greek and Turkish F-16s frequently intercept each other over these disputed territories. In October 1996 a Greek Mirage 2000 jet shot down a Turkish F-16 killing the pilot. Later, in May 2006 two Hellenic Air Force F-16s intercepted two of their Turkish counterparts, which were escorting one of their RF-4 reconnaissance planes, the same kind Syria shot down in May 2012, resulting in a midair collision that killed a Greek pilot.

Another precedent worth considering is Washington’s military dealings with Egypt and Israel over the last four decades. Since the implementation of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, Washington has provided both countries billions to spend on American weapon systems. Peace has endured and today the inventories of both sides are predominantly American-made. Any potential war between the two could, for example, see Israel and Egyptian F-16s shoot at each other. Nevertheless, that’s a highly unlikely scenario since both countries benefit from continued peace and possession of vast military arsenals.

Washington may well continue to beef up the Qatari military while diplomatically mediating a cold peace between Doha and its neighbours. Then, ultimately it can reap the benefits of having wealthy client states that are increasingly eager to shore up their armed forces.

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French Air Force 2017 – Infographic

by Louis Martin-Vézian of CIGeography (Facebook / Twitter).

The infographic at the end of the article displays all the flying squadrons of the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air), Naval Aviation (Aéronautique Navale) and Army Light Aviation (Aviation légère de l’Armée de Terre) as of May 2017.

The French Air Force aircraft inventory typifies France’s historically strong defense industry. Indigenous designs from Dassault or Sud-Aviation (now Airbus), like the Mirage 2000, the Rafale and the SA330 Puma are widespread in the inventory. European designs also make up a large part of the force, underlining a strong European integration with collaborative projects like the A400M, the NH90, the EC665 Tigre and C-160 Transall.

Some critical support roles, however, were left to foreign suppliers. The Airborne Command and Control and Aerial Refuelling Squadrons are equipped with US-made E-3F and KC-135. Additionally, MQ-9 drones were ordered to address shortcomings in the area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance plaguing France’s intervention in Mali (see also David Axe, “Lessons of the Mali War“,, 15.02.2013). Two MQ-9 Reaper stations (3 drones and one command station each) were received as of 2017 and two more will be delivered by 2019 (total of 12 drones and four command stations; Beth Stevenson, “France orders third Reaper system“, Flight Global, 17.12.2015).

Two C-130J and two KC-130J were also ordered in 2016 (Beth Stevenson, “French government confirms C-130J buy“, Flight Global, 04.02.2016). Those aircraft were purchased to close a capability gap resulting from delays in the A400M program. As of May 2017, France received 11 A400M, of which only 6 were equipped to the latest standard able to perform tactical missions (Frédéric Bergé, “Enfin une bonne nouvelle pour l’A400M d’Airbus“, BFM Business, 15.06.2016). Furthermore, the A400M will not completely remove the dependency on Soviet-era cargo aircraft, as it have a relatively small payload capacity (about 30 tons at 4,000 km, the distance from France to Mali, compared to close to 120 tons for the AN-124-100 for the same range; see also here: Björn Müller, “Battle for the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution“,, 30.04.2016).

France currently has a serious airlift deficiency and must rely heavily on allied platforms and charters (British and American C-17 supported the initial deployment to Mali in 2013 and chartered Ukrainian and Russian aircraft are vital elements of the supply chain).

The Navy Aviation is composed of a Carrier Air Wing for the Charles de Gaulle, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters for
Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System duties aboard surface ships, ASW patrol aircraft and search and rescue aircraft, as well as the usual training and liaison aircraft. The Carrier Air Wing recently parted with its Super Etendard Modernisé (SEM) aircraft and turned to an all-Rafale fleet based on the Rafale Marine.

Some of the few foreign aircraft in the French Navy are the three E-2C Hawkeyes carrying Airborne Early Warning duties aboard the Charles de Gaulle. The Navy Aviation still retains an ASW patrol capability with two squadrons of aging Bréguet Atlantique 2, despite their age they proved to be valuable ISR and strike platforms thanks to several upgrades in optronics. However with no replacement planned so far, France might lose this capability in the 2020s. The aging helicopter fleet of Lynx, Alouette and Dauphin is being replaced by the European NH90.

In the Army Light Aviation, French and European aircraft are prevalent, one of the sole exception being a handful Pilatus PC-6. Flight School, based on EC120 Colibiri, is externalized to Hélidax through a Public-Private Partnership — the first Partnership of this kind launched by the French Ministry of Defense (now Ministry of the Armed Services). The French Army Light Aviation Special Forces Helicopters Regiment was formed in 2009 to support special forces operations. It is one of the handful such units worldwide, and the only one with a couple of purely combat helicopters (the EC665 Tigre).

Click on the infographic to enlarge it.

Click on the infographic to enlarge it.

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International Cooperation at U.S. Africa Command

by Major Arnold Hammari. He is a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer specializing in Sub-Saharan Africa who has worked at the U.S. embassies in Senegal, Uganda, and Chad as well as U.S. Africa Command and Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established in 2007 in order to oversee U.S. military operations and engagement on the African continent. AFRICOM was designed and manned differently than other geographic combatant commands such as U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in order to give AFRICOM a greater focus on working with the interagency and non-military entities in Africa.

This interagency emphasis radiates from the top leadership of AFRICOM, which has two deputy commanders: a three-star Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations and a senior Ambassador as the Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagements. In addition U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supplies to the command a Senior Developmental Advisor responsible for providing advice related to development, stabilization, reconstruction, and humanitarian assistance. Ten other U.S. agencies are also represented at the command and collaborate on activities on the African continent.

U.S. Soldiers representing the 805th Military Police Company from Cary N.C participate in crowd control training with Alpha 3rd Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) and Royal Moroccan Armed Forces during Exercise African Lion 17 April 23, 2017, at Tifnit, Morocco. Exercise African Lion is an annually scheduled, combined multilateral exercise designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures. (Photo: Spc. Tynisha L. Daniel).

U.S. Soldiers representing the 805th Military Police Company from Cary N.C participate in crowd control training with Alpha 3rd Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) and Royal Moroccan Armed Forces during Exercise African Lion 17, April 23, 2017, at Tifnit, Morocco. Exercise African Lion is an annually scheduled, combined multilateral exercise designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures. (Photo: Spc. Tynisha L. Daniel).

History of African Collaboration
The U.S. has a long history of engagement with Africa, starting with Morocco being one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent United States of America in 1786. The earliest account of the U.S. military working with coalition partners in Africa is during the Barbary Wars from 1801-1805 when U.S. Marines along with European allies fought the Barbary States of northern Africa. Other instances of Americans and coalition partners working together in Africa are the establishment of Liberia in 1822 with blacks freed from slavery in the western hemisphere and the invasion of Northern Africa during World War II.

Prior to the Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), the largest U.S. engagement in Africa was in Somalia from 1992-1994 first as Operation PROVIDE RELIEF then later as Operation RESTORE HOPE and Unified Task Force (UNITAF) in conjunction with NATO and African partners. After transitioning to the United Nations mission UNOSOM II in 1993 the coalition was joined by Indian and Pakistani troops. U.S. troops departed in 1994 and the UNOSOM II mission was terminated in 1995.

The largest current American force in Africa, CJTF-HOA began operations in Djibouti in 2002 as an operation combined with international partners to combat piracy in the waters near Somalia. The mission of CJTF-HOA has evolved to countering violent extremist organizations in East Africa. This includes supporting African Union (AU) troops in their efforts to stabilize Somalia in order to allow for the establishment of a Somali national government.

The mission of AFRICOM is to “along with partners, disrupt and neutralize transnational threats, protect U.S. personnel and facilities, prevent and mitigate conflict, and build African partner defense capability and capacity in order to promote regional security, stability, and prosperity” (Thomas D. Waldhauser, “Advance Policy Questions for Lieutenant General Thomas D. Waldhauser, United States Marine Corps Nominee for Commander, U. S. Africa Command“, 21.06.2016, p. 1). The U.S. strategic objectives in Africa are to “(1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development” (Waldhauser, p. 6).

The Monrovia Medical Unit, an Ebola treatment unit built specifically for the care of medical workers who become infected with the virus, sits about 30 miles outside the capital city of Liberia, on November 4, 2014. The 25-bed facility was constructed from the ground up by a team of Navy Seabees, Soldiers and Airmen from Joint Forces Command – United Assistance and will be operated by personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service, said Lt. Col. Lee Hicks, the Joint Forces Command – United Assistance command engineer. (Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Hoskins).

The Monrovia Medical Unit, an Ebola treatment unit built specifically for the care of medical workers who become infected with the virus, sits about 30 miles outside the capital city of Liberia, on November 4, 2014. The 25-bed facility was constructed from the ground up by a team of Navy Seabees, Soldiers and Airmen from Joint Forces Command – United Assistance and will be operated by personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service, said Lt. Col. Lee Hicks, the Joint Forces Command – United Assistance command engineer. (Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Hoskins).

The primary method AFRICOM utilizes to achieve these objectives is through security force assistance such as exercises, military to military engagements, defense institution building, conferences, liaison officers, and U.S. military teams embedded in the U.S. Embassies throughout the continent. The goal of this security force assistance is to “strengthen democratic institutions by promoting accountability, transparency, and responsiveness in security institutions” (Waldhauser, p. 6) in the hope that stronger, more responsive, and accountable security forces will increase regional stability and create an environment for economic growth and prosperity.

Another AFRICOM key mission is to develop the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief capacity of African nations. U.S. National Guard units have been paired with select African partner nations to share expertise and train African disaster relief workers in the State Partnership Program. U.S. efforts in 2014-2015 during the West African Ebola outbreak were initially spearheaded by AFRICOM, with more than 2,800 U.S. military personnel deploying to West Africa or in support of the mission. International partnership with the EU, WHO, UNHCR and many other non-U.S. government organizations was key to the success of this endeavor.

Current Operations
Another essential effort for AFRICOM is combat operations within the AFRICOM area of responsibility: “along with regional partners, U.S. Africa command conducts military operations to disrupt, degrade and neutralize violent extremist organizations that present a transnational threat”.

AFRICOM is currently conducting operations in Somalia in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and in Libya. U.S. military forces are also deployed in the Lake Chad region to provide assistance to the counter-Boko Haram missions.

Until end of March 2017, U.S. forces were deployed to Central Africa as part of Operation OBSERVANT COMPASS in support of counter-Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) efforts. This operation has dramatically weakened the LRA in numbers and overall effectiveness. Where the group once boasted nearly 2,000 fighters, efforts of the African security forces, with U.S. advice and assistance, have reduced the group’s active membership to be estimated under 100. While its leader Joseph Kony remains in hiding, the African Union-led Regional Task Force has captured four of the five key LRA leaders. As a result of this success, Operation OBSERVANT COMPASS will remove U.S. military forces specifically focused on counter-LRA and transition to broader scope security and stability activities.

An additional AFRICOM mission is to respond to crisis in Africa, as demonstrated last year with the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy, Americans, and others in South Sudan. AFRICOM works closely with the U.S. Embassies to monitor the security situation and provide assistance as requested by the Ambassadors. If requested AFRICOM will launch an operation to provide assistance.

International Partners
Working with international partners is key to U.S. efforts in Africa. AFRICOM provides assistance to the French Operation BARKHANE in the Sahel-Maghreb as well as with the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin against Boko Haram. The Multinational Cooperation Center (MNCC) at AFRICOM Headquarters attempts to synchronize U.S. and international efforts by military forces on the African continent. The MNCC comprises liaison officers from Germany, France, UK, Denmark, Spain, Turkey, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. There is also a liaison officer from the European Union and the African Union has been invited to send a representative to the AFRICOM headquarters. The MNCC also works with the United Nations and NATO.

An additional group of international liaison officers is hosted by CJTF-HOA in Djibouti that involves AMISOM troop contributing countries as well as their non-African partners. African liaison officers from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda work to synchronize combat and support operations to neutralize al-Shabab in Somalia. Many of the same countries that have liaison officers at the AFRICOM headquarters also have representatives at CJTF-HOA.

While AFRICOM is the recipient of liaison officers that its Headquarters it sends liaison officers to the African Union, European Union, and the African regional communities such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In each individual country the Senior Defense Official / Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy has responsibility for coordinating bilateral military to military relations and engagements.

The Senior Defense Official also works with other Defense Attaches from other nations to synchronize efforts in support of the African host nation. This has been increasingly important as budgets for foreign engagement have decreased across most governments despite the increase in domestic threat from foreign-based threats. Some like-minded nations that face similar threats and share common security outcomes regionally are collaborating with U.S. forces. For example, in 2013 U.S. and French forces worked together to train the Chadian unit that deployed to Mali under MINUSMA. Multiple nations contribute in Uganda each year to train the units that deploy to Somalia.

Combined Exercises
Exercises are another security force assistance effort where U.S. and international partners have teamed up to develop African military forces. A prime example of international cooperation is with the annual Exercise FLINTLOCK (see video below), where U.S. and international special operations teams are paired with African special operations teams to conduct simulated operations.

The maritime exercises OBANGAME EXPRESS (focusing on the Gulf of Guinea), CUTLASS EXPRESS, and PHOENIX EXPRESS (both with a changing regional focus) involve as many international partners that would like to participate. African partners bring their own boats or may find themselves working with American, Danish, French or other nations on their boats.

The land-based ACCORD series of exercises also combine U.S., African, and other international partners in conducting simulated operations. For example the 2014 Exercise CENTRAL ACCORD combined troops from Cameroon, Burundi, Chad, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, Netherlands, and the U.S. military. Exercise SOUTHERN ACCORD involves African nations from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) as well as other international partners.

Exercise AFRICAN ENDEAVOR tests the interoperability of communications equipment across the continent. This is a key exercise as African armies bring their own communications equipment to peacekeeping operations and need to be able to communicate across diverse brands of manufacture. Exercise AFRICAN ENDEAVOR usually involves participants the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, the African Union, NATO, the European Union, and regional economic communities.

Ongoing International Cooperation
International cooperation and collaboration in Africa is primarily highlighted through ongoing operations in Libya and Somalia. Cooperation with U.S. and NATO partners is increasingly coupled with expanding new partnerships Middle and Far Eastern countries. These emerging security actors are contributing troops, logistics support, funding, and training. As combat operations slowly draw down in Libya, another combined joint task force similar to CJTF-HOA in Djibouti may be necessary to assist in the stabilization of the region as jihadists and fighters displaced from Libya seek to disrupt other less governed spaces. AFRICOM, as per its mission statement, will continue to seek to work with partners “in order to promote regional security, stability, and prosperity”.

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NATO & Trump: relationship status – complicated

by Patrick Truffer (originally published in German). He graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and completes a Master of Arts program in International Relations at the Freie Universität Berlin.

The agenda was clear-cut for the NATO Summit of the heads of state and government of the Member States, on Thursday, 25 May 2017: Strengthening the fight against terrorism, discussions on defence spending, introduction of the new 1.1 billion-euro NATO headquarters in Brussels, where the summit was held, and reception of the new heads of state and government, such as British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and of course US President Donald Trump. The Prime Minister of Montenegro, Duško Marković, was present at a NATO Summit meeting for the first time, because Montenegro will become the 29th member of NATO in June 2017. The objective of the exercise: To demonstrate unity. However, Trump’s presence resulted in the NATO Member States being seen as anything but united.

Trump criticised NATO during the presidential election: After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the defence alliance did not fulfil the originally intended purpose anymore, and the associated costs were too high for the United States, especially compared to the contribution other NATO Member States. As president, he would consider withdrawing the United States from NATO if the alliance is not restructured, the fight against terrorism is not actively supported, and if the costs are not distributed more equitably (D’Angelo Gore, “What’s Trump’s Position on NATO?“,, 11.05.2016). After being elected US President, his Vice President Mike Pence tried to smooth the ruffled feathers at the Munich Security Conference: “The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance.” At the same time, he underlined the demand for a more balanced distribution of costs: “The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many for too long, and it erodes the very foundation of our alliance. When even one ally fails to do their part, it undermines our ability to come to each other’s aid. […] Let me be clear on this point, the President of the United States expects our allies to keep their word to fulfill this commitment, and for most that means the time has come to do more.”

Trump’s priorities were also clear at the meeting with the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in mid-April. Trump honoured the role of NATO during the Cold War, but saw the present and future role of the defence alliance primarily in the fight against international terrorism and in the prevention of migration flows. Specifically, he expects NATO to be active in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), and in ending the civil war in Syria. Furthermore, as agreed, each NATO Member State has to invest at least 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in defence. According to his logic, the NATO Member States would even have to settle open bills: the difference to the 2% of GDP which they have not raised in recent years.

Mr President, I thank you for your attention to this issue. We are already seeing the effect of your strong focus on the importance of fair burden-sharing in the Alliance. — NATO-Generalsekretär Jens Stoltenberg

Even though Trump will hardly care, his reflections on the last point are wrong. The “2 percent target” is based on a non-binding guideline adopted by the Member States in 2006 at the NATO Summit in Riga. This rule was reaffirmed at the NATO Summit in Wales in autumn 2014: All NATO Member States wish to invest 2% of GDP in their defence by 2024. However, this declaration has more to do with a political than with a realistic promise – thus, there is no binding obligation (Jan Techau, “The Politics of 2 Percent: NATO and the Security Vacuum in Europe“, Carnegie Europe, 02.09.2015). And yet it is problematic that Stoltenberg praised Trump at the joint press conference in Washington: Trump’s criticism has made the fair distribution of costs a major theme. Stoltenberg even went so far as to assert that the first positive effects of this have become evident (“Joint Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the United States, Donald Trump“, NATO, 13.04.2017).

Diplomatically, [Trump’s] speech was inept at best and deliberately insulting at worst. — Jeff Rathke, deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Of course this is about “soothing diplomatic language”, but for Trump diplomacy is a foreign language. In other words: Stoltenberg has unintentionally empowered Trump in his role as a debt collector. His criticism addressed to the other heads of state and government during the speech in honour of the 9/11 memorial at the NATO headquarters, that they are not going to meet their financial obligations in relation to NATO, is thus not surprising. However, taken together with his failing to affirm the article 5 mutual assistance clause, this was met with little sympathy from the other heads of state and government (Rosie Gray, “Trump Declines to Affirm NATO’s Article 5“, The Atlantic, 25.05.2017).

The rest of the NATO Member States were clearly taking pains to please the new US president. Not only were topics about Russia systematically avoided, but one of Trumps’ priorities was addressed before the NATO summit: NATO announced its intention to join the US-led coalition to fight IS. This is primarily a symbolic gesture, because many NATO Member States and NATO allies are already part of the coalition, and directly support the fight against IS. Since the last summit, NATO has supported the coalition with AWACS aircraft equipped with modern radar and communications technology, which will be further expanded. NATO is also conducting a training mission in Iraq. However, there is no plan for a direct combat effort. In addition, the NATO Member States want to better combine their efforts in this area with a newly created counter-terrorism coordinator.

There was also some movement on the issue of a more balanced distribution of costs. Each Member State has to submit an individual plan to answer three questions:

  1. How will the “2 percent target” with an investment of at least 20% of that money in new equipment be achieved?
  2. What additional financial resources will be directly invested in key NATO systems?
  3. What contribution will be made to the NATO missions, operations, and other efforts.

The first planning documents have to be available in December and examined by the defense ministers in February of next year.

The times when we could completely rely on others are basically over. I have come to realise this in the last few days. […] We Europeans must take our fate into our own hands.” — Deutsche Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel

The NATO Summit in Brussels was conceived as a small, brief meeting, which primarily was for “bringing the new US President on board”. Strategic decisions were neither expected nor made. Despite symbolic concessions, the relationship with Trump remains complicated, which Trump’s lack of support for NATO’s mutual assistance clause clearly demonstrates. The public affront to the other heads of state and government during the speech in honour of the 9/11 memorial at the NATO headquarters should also not be overstated. At the moment, the effective engagement of the US armed forces in Europe is unambiguous: The US is behind NATO (see also: Louis Martin-Vézian, “Operation Atlantic Resolve: Back to Europe“,, 11.03.2017). This is also demonstrated by Trump’s submitted proposal for the US national budget of 2018. This involves extending the financing of the European Reassurance Initiative, which includes Operation Atlantic Resolve, from this year’s 3.4 billion to 4.8 billion US dollars (David M. Herszenhorn, “NATO Cheers Trump’s Military Budget“, POLITICO, 24.05.2017). However, Trump is not a patient person, and will hardly want to wait until 2024 until the other member states (perhaps) raise their defence spending to 2% of GDP. If, in the medium term, the European NATO member states do not invest significantly more for their own security, the US financial support could quickly and noticeably decrease. Essentially, Trump can hardly be contradicted with regard to one point: Why should US taxpayers be financially responsible for the security of Europe, if taxpayers are not prepared to do so in Europe? However, Trump would have needed to engage in real persuasive efforts, rather than adopt a school master-like attitude. In the long term, this has has been a disservice, which especially became apparent in the context of the meeting with the EU and the other G7 countries.

• • •

Info box: Noble Jump 2017
The NATO exercise Noble Jump 2017 will take place in June, after somewhat more than a month of preparation. The engagement of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force will be practised in Romania with around 4,000 soldiers from 9 Member States. The exercise will start with an Alert Exercise, whereby the troops and equipment from military bases in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Poland, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania will be relocated over a few days within the exercise area by rail, air, and sea. This exercise is not only a challenge in terms of infantry; it is especially a logistical challenge. For NATO, this represents a milestone in its ability to defend itself against an external aggressor.

• • •

More information
Trump evidently continued instructing the other heads of state and government during the subsequent dinner: Judy Dempsey, “Trump Leaves NATO“, Carnegie Europe, 26.052017.

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Can Saudi Arabia become America’s new gendarme in the Persian Gulf?

by Paul Iddon

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. According to Trump this "tremendous" arms deal with the Saudis will bring billions worth of jobs and investment in the United States. ( Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP).

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. According to Trump this “tremendous” arms deal with the Saudis will bring billions worth of jobs and investment in the United States. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP).

Over the next decade the United States may provide the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with as much as $350 billion worth of military hardware, which would dwarf the already exorbitant deals carried out in the last decade which have lavished Riyadh’s military with large quantities of hi-tech weapons.

US President Donald Trump’s already put his name to an agreement of various “intended sales” worth $110 billion during his visit to the kingdom last month. According to ABC News “only approximately $25 billion of the $110 billion [is] in the actual pipeline, and future sales are not guaranteed”.

There has also been talk about the Saudis taking a leading role in countering Iranian military power in the Gulf region by building up its military. This is another highly dubious prospect, but one worth evaluating all the same since it has an informative historical precedent.

“The package of defense equipment and services supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian related threats,” read a statement on the State Department’s official website. “Additionally, it bolsters the Kingdom’s ability to provide for its own security and continue contributing to counterterrorism across the region, reducing the burden on U.S. military forces,” the fact sheet adds (Emphasis ours).

The fact sheet’s language, whether intentional or not, echoes the Nixon administration’s policy towards the Shah’s Iran in the early 1970s. Under the Nixon Doctrine, aimed at reducing the US’s then overstretched role in the world, the Shah became the predominant military force in the region. This in turn saved the US from having to send forces to secure its interest in, and keep the Soviets out of, that region following the withdrawal of the British in 1971. US President Richard Nixon, an old friend of the Shah before his presidency, summed up the responsibility his administration was delegating to Iran when he asked the Iranian ruler to: “Protect me”.

The Shah of Iran oversees his navy when Tehran was America's gendarme in the Persian Gulf in the 1970s (Screenshot from BBC documentary "The Last Shah").

The Shah of Iran oversees his navy when Tehran was America’s gendarme in the Persian Gulf in the 1970s (Screenshot from BBC documentary “The Last Shah“).

“Nixon’s choice of words were extraordinary. The president of the United States had traveled to the court of the shah of Iran to ask Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to protect him” noted Roham Alvandi in his book on the period, “Nixon Kissinger and the Shah“. Shortly thereafter the Shah began his manic military build-up. In the 1970s Tehran bought advanced non-nuclear US military hardware, including a large fleet of sophisticated F-14 Tomcats air superiority fighter jets. The Shah, as Alvandi also points out, rightly boasted to his court minister, Asadollah Alam, that Nixon “gave me everything I asked for”.

Nevertheless, as his power and relevance grew as a result of this policy, the Shah had his frustrations. His military – made up as it was by an impressive array of American-made warplanes and British-made armor and naval vessels – depended largely on the importation of spare parts, which he frequently complained, in interviews with the Western press, he could only purchase at inflated prices. So, while a rising military power in the region Iran still relied heavily on its Western allies to keep their hi-tech hardware operational.

Today the Saudi military relies on the West for almost everything when it comes to maintaining their military hardware. Riyadh is trying to rectify this by establishing a state-run company to manufacture its own arms, ammunition and radars. Even if they succeed in this endeavor they will nevertheless remain heavily reliant on outside assistance. Throughout their bombing campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, for example, they relied on the Americans for midair refueling.

To practically “police” the Gulf the Royal Saudi Navy has eight French-built frigates (the newer La Fayette-class and older 1980s Al Madinah-class), four American-made corvettes and nine patrol boats, along with three British-made minesweepers at its disposal. They do not possess any submarines. Riyadh also intends to purchase American littoral combat ships.

Saudi Navy ships in the King Abdul-Aziz Naval Base of Jubail in 1990.

Saudi Navy ships in the King Abdul-Aziz Naval Base of Jubail in 1990.

The Iranians, on the other hand, have three aged frigates from the Shah’s time, several small attack craft, three Russian-made Kilo-class diesel submarines, purchased in the 1990s, and 21 domestically-produced midget submarines. While modest Tehran has focused heavily on self-sufficiency in its navy.

It is possible to make some broad analogies between the Nixon Doctrine and President Trump’s current contention, voiced numerous times during the presidential election, that US allies, especially NATO states, should take greater responsibility for their own defense. Nevertheless, Riyadh can still count on, and will probably have to count on for years to come, Washington to come to its aid if attacked and more generally to maintain its military in both peace and wartime. It’s unclear if the Trump administration has any specific security roles it wants the Saudis to play in the region in coming years.

Talk of an Arab NATO is surely premature. The historic analogy to the ineffective and ultimately failed Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) alliance doesn’t inspire much confidence, nor does the fact that the 34-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism announced by Riyadh in December 2015 hasn’t yet amounted so much, if anything at all. The Saudis did form a much more tangible multinational coalition of regional states, along with Egypt and Sudan, to bomb the Houthis in Yemen in early 2015 but failed to convince Egypt and Pakistan to contribute large numbers of ground troops.

All state which were part of the CENTO alliance (in green) throughout its existence, 1955-79.

Nevertheless, the Trump administrations’ instilling of a belief in Riyadh that its regional role is being elevated by spending even more on American hardware, flawed as it is, has already yielded windfalls for major American arms firms. CNN Money pointed out that shares in Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon have already risen as a direct result of Trump’s latest deal.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, predictably, denounced the move, going so far as to depict the Saudis as a “cow being milked” by the United States.

Another analogy to Iran in the 1970s is of crucial importance to consider. During that time the Shah’s continued rule appeared a sure thing to the US government. Many questioned the stability of the Saudi regime and believed the House of Saud, which in the late 1970s struggled to combat militants who dug themselves into the Grand Mosque in Mecca, was the regional regime most at risk of collapse – while the Shah’s Iran, in US President Jimmy Carter’s famous misjudgement, represented “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas in the world.” Today, nearly four decades later, the House of Saud stands and the Pahlavi Dynasty remains in exile and long out of power.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi speaks to people about principles of White Revolution in 1963.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi speaks to people about principles of White Revolution in 1963.

The Saudis are fundamentally diversifying their economy, to lessen their overwhelming reliance on income from oil exports, as part of their Vision 2030 program. The top-down implementation of wide-ranging reforms in such a deeply-rooted conservative society in a relatively short period of time, less than 15 years, is bound to have repercussions, albeit not necessarily revolutionary, as happened in Iran just under four decades ago.

The Iranian ruler sought to rapidly transform and modernize the country in a short period of time: from the wide-ranging top-down land reforms, known as the White Revolution, introduced in 1963 to the rapid build-up and modernization of the country, largely made possible by the increase in the price of oil in the mid-1970s, until his fall from power in 1979.

Not unlike this Saudi Arabia is undertaking “a revolution” which they have “disguised as economic reform”. Also like the Shah’s Iran these fundamental reforms will not include the introduction of political freedoms for the kingdom’s subjects. As with Iran these fundamental changes could produce destabilizing and tumultuous results at a time as the kingdom’s military arsenal grows exponentially larger and larger. If this proves so in the foreseeable future Riyadh will certainly not fit the bill as a reliable and competent power to police the wider neighborhood.

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Projekte des VBS: Neues Kampfflugzeug (Updated)

Ende April 2017 hat das Departement für Verteidigung, Bevölkerungsschutz und Sport (VBS) eine Übersicht über alle im VBS laufenden “Top-Projekte” veröffentlicht. Als “Top-Projekte” werden Beschaffungen oder Organisationsänderungen bezeichnet, welche aufgrund ihrer grossen finanziellen Engagements, ihrer mehrjährigen Laufzeiten, ihrer hohen Komplexität und ihrer starken Abhängigkeiten untereinander im Fokus der politischen Gremien und der Öffentlichkeit stehen. Wer jedoch eine detaillierte Vorstellung der einzelnen Projekte erwartet hat, wurde von dem Bericht enttäuscht — mehr als eine grobe Übersicht lieferte dieser nicht. Deshalb hat sich vorgenommen, einige dieser Projekte in einer Artikelserie detaillierter vorzustellen. Im vorliegenden Artikel geht es um die Beschaffung eines neuen Kampfflugzeuges für die Schweizer Armee.

Saab Gripen JAS 39E: bereits detailliert evaluiert?

Saab JAS 39 Gripen

Streng genommen Projekt “Neues Kampfflugzeug” im Bericht noch gar nicht erscheinen, denn gemäss den Angaben im Bericht wurde das Projekt noch gar nicht gestartet. Die Vorbereitungsarbeiten laufen jedoch bereits: Eine VBS-interne Expertengruppe bestehend aus Vertretern der Armee, der armasuisse und des Generalsekretariat VBS klären grundlegende Fragen zu Bedarf, Vorgehen und industriellen Aspekten. Ein umfassender Bericht der Expertengruppe wird demnächst erwartet. Aufgrund erster Erkenntnisse und dem davon abgeleiteten drängenden Handlungsbedarf hat die Expertengruppe bereits Ende November 2016 einen Kurzbericht veröffentlicht. Die Expertengruppe wird zusätzlich durch eine weitere VBS-externe Gruppe unter der Führung des Alt-Ständerats Hans Altherr begleitet. Darin Einsatz haben Vertreter aller vier Bundesratsparteien, der Schweizerischen Offiziersgesellschaft, der Swissmem, des Eidgenössisches Departement für auswärtige Angelegenheiten, des Eidgenössisches Finanzdepartement und des Eidgenössisches Departement für Wirtschaft, Bildung und Forschung sowie weitere Vertreter des VBS und der Armee (die personelle Zusammensetzung ist hier zu finden). Die Beratungen der Begleitgruppe sind jedoch vertraulich.

Da Kampfflugzeuge im gesamten Leistungsspektrum zum Einsatz kommen, müssen sie den Anforderungen sowohl des Luftpolizeidiensts als auch der Luftverteidigung genügen. Die [30] F/A-18C/D sind qualitativ gut, genügen aber zahlenmässig nicht, um bei einer konkreten und anhaltenden Bedrohung den Luftpolizeidienst mit 2-4 Flugzeugen permanent in der Luft über längere Zeit sicherzustellen. Dabei ist zu berücksichtigen, dass eine erhöhte Bedrohung einen Bedarf nach zusätzlichem Training auslöst, wodurch die Flotte zusätzlich beansprucht wird. Für länger anhaltenden Luftpolizeidienst mit 2-4 Flugzeugen permanent in der Luft wären an sich 5 Staffeln mit insgesamt 55 Kampfflugzeugen nötig. Luftverteidigung ist noch anspruchsvoller. — Schweizerischer Bundesrat, “Konzept zur langfristigen Sicherung des Luftraumes: Bericht des Bundesrates in Erfüllung des Postulats Galladé 12.4130 vom 12. Dezember 2012“, 17.08.2014, S. 23.

Am 18. Mai 2014 lehnte die Stimmbevölkerung den vorgeschlagenen Fonds zur Beschaffung des Kampfflugzeugs Gripen E in Höhe von 3,126 Milliarden SFr mit 53,4% Nein-Stimmen ab. Damit konnten die mit dem Rüstungsprogramm 2012 vorgesehenen 22 Grippen E Kampfflugzeuge der schwedischen Firma Saab nicht beschafft werden, welche als Ersatz für die in die Jahre gekommenen 54 Northrop F-5 Tiger vorgesehen waren. Das Vorhaben startete 2003 mit informellen Gesprächen der armasuisse mit den Herstellern der vier Kandidaten Eurofighter Typhoon (Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug), F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (Boeing), Rafale (Dassault) und Gripen (Saab), welche eine informelle Kostenangabe für die weitere Planung beinhaltete. Die armasuisse sah ursprünglich vor für die F-5 Tiger 33 Ersatzkampfflugzeuge zu beschaffen, welche mit den dazumal noch 33 F/A-18 C/D Hornet der Schweizer Armee eine Flotte von 66 Kampfflugzeugen umfassen sollte (basierend auf Michael Grünenfelder, “Weiterentwicklung der Luftwaffe bis 2015 – eine Strategie“, Air Power Revue der Luftwaffe Nr. 1, Beilage zur ASMZ 10 (2003), 21-30). Womöglich waren die informellen Kostenangaben der Hersteller etwas zu optimistisch, jedoch mit den Offerteneinreichung verabschiedete sich Boeing aus dem Beschaffungsprozess und die armasuiss musste aus finanziellen Gründen sich mit maximum 22 Kampfflugzeugen begnügen. Mit dem Tiger Teilersatz war gleichzeitig auch der Wiederaufbau grundlegender Fähigkeiten zur Luftaufklärung und zur Bekämpfung von Bodenzielen geplant. Diese beiden Fähigkeiten mussten mit der Ausserdienststellung der Dassault Mirage IIIRS ab 2004 (Luftaufklärung) und des Hawker Hunter ab 1995 (Erdkampf) aufgegeben werden.

Auch der weitere Verlauf der Beschaffung eines Ersatzkampfflugzeuges stand unter einem schlechten Stern. Die Wahl des Gripen E war umstritten, denn praktisch wurde der Gripen C/D evaluiert — der Gripen E befand sich zu dieser Zeit noch auf dem Reissbrett. Das war auch deshalb problematisch, weil es sich beim Gripen E nicht bloss um ein Upgrad-Programm handelte, sondern dieser sich von seinem Vorgängermodell deutlich unterscheidete. Grabenkämpfe innerhalb der Armee um Geld und Typenwahl sowie die damit verbundene Indiskretionen und ein Bundesrat mit erheblichen kommunikativen Defizite gaben dem Vorhaben schlussendlich den Todesstoss. Damit hat sich die Notwendigkeit einer Beschaffung eines neuen Kampfflugzeuges jedoch deutlich verschärft, denn nun muss nicht nur der F-5 Tiger (von denen gegenwärtig noch 26 im Einsatz stehen), sondern in absehbarer Zeit auch die 30 F/A-18C/D ersetzt werden. Wie viele Kampfflugzeuge beschafft werden sollen, steht momentan offen, doch auch die 22 Gripen wären heute kaum mehr für “nur” 3,1 Milliarden SFr zu bekommen. Ausserdem stellt das Kampfflugzeug nicht die einzige kostspielige Beschaffung dar; weitere Anschaffungen werden in den Bereichen Panzer, Artillerie, Luftabwehr, Übermittlungs- und Führungssysteme notwendig werden.

Eine der Tiefpunkte bei der gescheiterten Gripen-Beschaffung: Die in der Sonntagszeitung veröffentlichten Evaluationsberichte der Luftwaffe, welche sowohl dem Gripen C/D (MS19) wie basierend auf dem damaligen Kenntnisstand auch dem Gripen E/F (MS21) schlechte Noten vergaben. Am besten schnitt der Dassault Rafale ab. Deshalb war dieser für die Luftwaffe die erste Wahl, die zweite Wahl fiel auf den Eurofighter (Quelle: Titus Plattner, "Gripen: Sechsmal Note ungenügend", Sonntagszeitung, 12.02.2012, p.3; siehe auch "Aufgeschnappt: Saab Gripen im Sturzflug",, 12.02.2012).

Eine der Tiefpunkte bei der gescheiterten Gripen-Beschaffung: Die in der Sonntagszeitung veröffentlichten Evaluationsberichte der Luftwaffe, welche sowohl dem Gripen C/D (MS19) wie basierend auf dem damaligen Kenntnisstand auch dem Gripen E/F (MS21) schlechte Noten vergaben. Am besten schnitt der Dassault Rafale ab. Deshalb war dieser für die Luftwaffe die erste Wahl, die zweite Wahl fiel auf den Eurofighter (Quelle: Titus Plattner, “Gripen: Sechsmal Note ungenügend”, Sonntagszeitung, 12.02.2012, p.3; siehe auch “Aufgeschnappt: Saab Gripen im Sturzflug“,, 12.02.2012).

Der erste Kurzbericht der Expertengruppe zeigt in drei Bereichen einen unmittelbaren Handlungsbedarf auf:

  • Auf die Ausserdienststellung der F-5 Tiger soll momentan Verzicht verzichtet werden, um gegebenenfalls zumindest einen Teil der Flotte zur Entlastung der F/A-18C/D Flotte als “Serviceflugzeug” über 2018 hinaus weiter betreiben zu können. Der F-5 Tiger ist aufgrund seiner komplett veralteten Bewaffnung und seines Radars weder für den vollständigen Luftpolizeidienst noch für die Luftverteidigung zu gebrauchen. Als “Serviceflugzeug” kann er jedoch für Einsätze zur Überwachung der Radioaktivität der Luft, im Training zur Zieldarstellung und als Agressor, für die Patrouille Suisse sowie in sehr beschränktem Ausmass für den Luftpolizeidienst am Tag und bei guten Sichtverhältnissen eingesetzt werden. Für diese Aufgaben sind 26 F-5 Tiger vorgesehen, der Rest soll mit der Armeebotschaft 2018 zur Senkung des Betriebsaufwandes möglichst rasch ausser Dienst gestellt werden. Die finanzierungswirksamen Aufwände für den Weiterbetrieb von 26 F-5 Tiger belaufen sich jährlich auf geschätzte 30 Millionen Franken. Eine Verlängerung der Nutzungsdauer und Kampfwertsteigerung der F-5-Tiger-Flugzeuge kommt hingegen wegen den Kosten (je nach Variante 950 Millionen bzw. 1’250 Millionen SFr.) nicht in Frage.
  • Dank mehreren Upgrade-Programmen konnten die F/A-18C/D in den vergangenen zwanzig Jahren leistungsmässig auf der Höhe der Zeit gehalten werden. Trotzdem ist eine Nutzungsdauer nur bis zum Jahr 2025 mit 5’000 Flugstunden vorgesehen. Um mit der Auslieferung des neuen Kampfflugzeuges zwischen 2025 und 2030 keine strategische Lücke aufreissen zu lassen, soll die Nutzungsdauer des F/A-18C/D bis 2030 und bis zu 6’000 Flugstunden verlängert werden. Dazu ist eine Verstärkung der Flugzeugstruktur, ein Logistikpaket, welches die Verfügbarkeit von Ersatzteilen sicherstellen soll, die Erneuerung des Missionsplanungs- und Debriefing-Systems sowie der Simulatoren und des Ausbildungssystems vorgesehen. In den Bereichen Kommunikation, Navigation und Identifikation werden Komponenten ersetzt oder erneuert, um so die Interoperabilität bis 2030 sicherzustellen und auch Radarlenkwaffen sollen nachbeschafft werden. Schliesslich soll ein neues im Helm integriertes Nachtsichtgerät die Übersicht in der Dunkelheit erheblich verbessern. Die mit der Nutzungsverlängerung verbunden Kosten betragen 450 Millionen SFr. Das Geschäft wurde mit der Armeebotschaft 2017 bei den eidgenössischen Räte beantragt und wird voraussichtlich in der kommenden Sommersession im Nationalrat beraten. Zusätzlich beantragte die Sicherheitspolitische Kommission des Nationalrates Ende April 2017, dass mit zusätzlichen 20 Millionen SFr gleichzeitig eine beschränkte Erdkampffähigkeit des F/A-18C/D aufgebaut wird.
  • Schliesslich bestätigt die Expertengruppe: eine Neues Kampfflugzeug ist dringend notwendig. Deshalb wurde mit der Armeebotschaft 2017 die Bereitstellung eines ersten Kredits von 10 Millionen für die Projektierung, Erprobung und Beschaffungsvorbereitung (PEB) des neuen Kampfflugzeugs den eidgenössischen Räten beantragt.

Umfang der Evaluation
Offiziell gibt es momentan keine Informationen über eine “Longlist” möglicher zu evaluierende Kampfflugzeuge. Doch verschiedene Quellen weisse auf folgende Anbieter hin:

  • Saab mit dem Gripen E: Während der letzten Evaluation wurde die Vorgängerversion Gripen C/D praktisch erprobt. Dieser wurde aufgrund der schlechten Leistungsfähigkeit in mehreren Punkten als ungenügend beurteilt. Der Gripen E wurde nicht praktisch erprobt, doch aufgrund der technischen Daten erfüllte er dazumal die an ihn gestellten Anforderungen auch nicht vollständig. Diese Beurteilung ist womöglich nicht (mehr) zutreffend, eine “Rehabilitierung” ist jedoch nur mit einer umfassenden Evaluation zu erzielen — der Gripen E muss nun den Praxisbeweis antreten. Ausserdem weist der Zeitplan bei der Entwicklung des Grippen E gegenüber der ursprünglichen Planung eine Verzögerung auf — der Jungfernflug wird voraussichtlich erst im zweiten Quartal dieses Jahres absolviert. Dies ist zwar später als bei der letzten Evaluation angenommen, doch rechtzeitig um in der kommenden Evaluation genaustens auf Herz und Nieren zu überprüfen. Der Gripen E wurde der Schweiz im Rahmen des letzten Beschaffungsversuch für 140 Millionen SFr pro Stück angeboten. Er war damit das mit Abstand günstigste Angebot; die Stückpreise bei den anderen Anbietern lagen rund 40-50 Millionen SFr höher. Es ist jedoch anzunehmen, dass der Preis des Gripen E mittlerweile gestiegen ist.
  • Dassault mit dem Rafale: Der Rafale wurde bereits bei der letzten Evaluation getestet (vermutlich der F3 Standard). Mit dem F3-R Standard sollen 2018 Waffen und Avionic erneuert werden; ausserdem ist für 2023 im Rahmen des F4-Standards ein weiteres Update vorgesehen.
  • Wäre der Lockheed Martin F-35 eine Option für die Schweizer Luftwaffe? Kaum -- dies war jedenfalls unser Standpunkt vor 5 Jahren.

    Wäre der Lockheed Martin F-35 eine Option für die Schweizer Luftwaffe? Kaum — dies war jedenfalls unser Standpunkt vor 5 Jahren.

    Airbus (et al.) mit dem Eurofighter Typhoon: Im Rahmen der letzten Evaluation wurde der Schweiz die Tranche 3A offeriert, welche kein Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar enthielt (dieser könnte mit CAPTOR-E womöglich ab 2020 operationell sein). Die Weiterentwickelte Tranche 3B fand auf dem Markt kaum Interesse und wurde deshalb bis jetzt nicht umgesetzt. Auch sonst gibt es einige Alarmzeichen, dass die Eurofighter-Produktion mittelfristig beendet werden könnte.
  • Lockheed Martin mit dem F-35 Lightning II: Der F-35 wäre der einzige komplett neue Kandidat in der Evaluation. Ausserdem handelt es sich in der Evaluation um den einzigen Kampfflugzeug der 5. Generation. Er ist damit nicht nur überqualifiziert sondern auch das technologische Risiko ist bedeutend höher als dies bei den restlichen Kampfflugzeuge der 4. Generation mit grundsätzlich erprobter Technologie der Fall ist. Andererseits wird der F-35 in den nächsten Jahrzehnten das wichtigste Kampfflugzeug der US-Luftwaffe sowie mehrerer Nato-Staaten und Verbündeter sein. Bestellungen liegen derzeit aus einem Dutzend Länder vor, darunter aus Grossbritannien, Italien, Norwegen, Däne­mark, Australien und der Türkei. Insgesamt könnten rund 3’000 Stück produziert werden, was den Kampfjet preislich attraktiv werden lassen könnte. Momentan liegt der Stückpreis bei mindestens 155 Millionen SFr. Trotzdem erachtet den F-35 als eine eher unwahrscheinliche Variante (siehe “Tiger Teilersatz: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightening II ?“,, 27.02.2010).
  • The threat has migrated all over the place. Enough stealth is important but you don’t need it all the time all the stealth you could possibly get. — Dan Gillian, Boeing’s F/A-18E/F program manager, zitiert in Dave Majumdar, “Boeing Wants to Build a ‘Super’ F/A-18E/F Super Hornet”, The National Interest, 04.04.2017.

    Boeing mit dem F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (Block II): Beim F/A-18E/F handelt es sich im Vergleich zum F/A-18C/D um eine umfassende Neuentwicklung, die um etwa 30 % grösser (30% größerer Rumpf und 25% höhere Flügelfläche) und erheblich leistungsfähiger (35% mehr Trockenschub) ist. Das Hauptproblem beim F/A-18E/F liegt darin, dass die derzeitige Infrastruktur der Luftwaffe für eine solche Grösse nicht ausgelegt ist, und eine Anpassung zusätzliche Kosten erzeugen würde. In den 2020er könnte womöglich eine Block III Variante produziert werden, mit einem geringeren Radarquerschnitt, neuer Avionik, einem langwelligen Infrarot “Search and Track” System (long-wave infrared search and track system; IRST), einer neuen taktischen Zielerfassungstechnologie (Tactical Targeting Network Technologies; TTNT), neuem elektronischen, defensiven Eigenschutzsystem, einem grösseren Tank und einer längeren Einsatzdauer (von 6’000 auf 9’000 Flugstunden).

Angesichts dieser potentiellen “Longlist” ist davon auszugehen, dass eine komplette Evaluation aller möglichen Kandidaten durchgeführt werden muss, weil ansonsten das Risiko bestünde, dass unterlegene Anbieter eine Ungleichbehandlung geltend machen würden. (Expertengruppe NKF, “Erste Erkenntnisse und unmittelbarer Handlungsbedarf aus den Arbeiten der Expertengruppe neues Kampfflugzeug (NKF), Kurzbericht“, Schweizer Armee, Armeestab, 18. November 2016, S. 6).

Internationale Sicht
Gemäss gegenwärtiger Planung werden die meisten Betreiber von F/A-18A-D Flotten, diese bis zum Jahr 2030 ausmustern und durch modernere Kampfflugzeuge ersetzen. Die USA, Australien und Kuwait sehen als Ersatz den F/A-18E-G Super Hornet / Growler F-35 vor (Expertengruppe NKF, “Erste Erkenntnisse und unmittelbarer Handlungsbedarf aus den Arbeiten der Expertengruppe neues Kampfflugzeug (NKF), Kurzbericht“, Schweizer Armee, Armeestab, 18. November 2016, S. 16f).

Wenn die Armeebotschaft 2017 wie benatragt von den eidgenössischen Räten verabschiedet wird, so kann 2018/2019 die Evaluierung erfolgen, so dass 2020 eine Typenwahl möglich sein wird. Danach soll eine erste Tranche neuer Kampfflugzeuge mit dem Rüstungsprogramm 2022 beschafft werden, eine zweite Tranche rund 5 Jahre später. Die neuen Kampfflugzeuge der ersten Tranche würde dann der Luftwaffe ab 2025 schrittweise zufliessen und die neue Flotte wäre etwa ab 2030 einsatzbereit.

• • •

Info-Box: Die Armee ist ein Gesamtsystem
Damit Bodentruppen – insbesondere während Spannungen und in einem bewaffneten Konflikt – ihre Aufgaben erfüllen können, muss zumindest eine vorteilhafte Luftsituation erlangt werden, d. h. die Luftwaffe muss in der Lage sein, gegnerische Luftkriegsmittel zu hindern, ihre Waffen wirkungsvoll einzusetzen. Fehlt ein schützendes Dach in der Dritten Dimension, so verliert die Armee ihre Handlungsfreiheit auch am Boden. Ohne wirksame Luftverteidigung könnte überdies auch die Zivilbevölkerung und die kritische Infrastruktur in einem bewaffneten Konflikt nicht vor Bedrohungen aus der Luft geschützt werden. Insgesamt würde die Handlungsfreiheit der Landesregierung in Krisen und Konflikten erheblich eingeschränkt, wenn die Armee über keine Mittel verfügen würde, um den Luftraum zu schützen. Hinzu kommt, dass die Luftwaffe auch in der normalen und besonderen Lage originäre Aufgaben erfüllt, indem sie die Lufthoheit wahrt und die von der Schweiz festgelegten Regeln zur Benützung ihres Luftraumes mittels Luftpolizeidienst durchsetzt. Für die Erfüllung all dieser Aufgaben werden auch in absehbarer Zukunft moderne Kampfflugzeuge benötigt. — Expertengruppe NKF, “Erste Erkenntnisse und unmittelbarer Handlungsbedarf aus den Arbeiten der Expertengruppe neues Kampfflugzeug (NKF), Kurzbericht“, Schweizer Armee, Armeestab, 18. November 2016, S.4f.

• • •

Update vom 10.06.2017 – Bericht der Expertengruppe und Empfehlungen der Begleitgruppe
Ende Mai wurde der Bericht der Expertengruppe und die Empfehlungen der Begleitgruppe zur Beschaffung eines neuen Kampfflugzeuges veröffentlicht. Der Expertenbericht kommt zur Schlussfolgerung, dass der Luftraum von strategischer Bedeutung ist, welcher auch zukünftig mit Kampfflugzeugen und Mitteln der bodengestützten Luftverteidigung eigenständig geschützt und gegebenenfalls verteidigt werden muss. Die Anzahl der Kampfflugzeuge misst sich nicht am Bedarf, wie er sich aus dem alltäglichen Luftpolizeidienst ergibt; Grösse und Aufwand für die Luftwaffe wird von der Wahrung der Lufthoheit im Falle von Spannungen und von der Luftverteidigung bestimmt. Deshalb müssen die Mittel der Luftwaffe erneuert und ergänzt werden, damit der Schweizer Luftraum auch in Zukunft geschützt werden kann.

Die Schweiz verfügt aktuell über ein komplettes Gesamtsystem zur Luftverteidigung. Ohne Massnahmen werden aber schon in den nächsten fünf bis zehn Jahren alle zentralen Komponenten (Kampfflugzeuge, bodengestützten Luftverteidigung, Überwachungsradar, Führungssystem) das Ende ihrer Nutzungsdauer erreichen. Schon heute bestehen bei den Kampfflugzeugen Lücken im Bereich der Luftaufklärung und beim Erdkampf und die Durchhaltefähigkeit der verfügbaren Mittel ist unzureichend. Würden nächstens keine Massnahmen (Nutzungsdauerverlängerungen, Neubeschaffungen) eingeleitet, so würde die Schweiz in der zweiten Hälfte der 2020er Jahre alle Fähigkeiten verlieren, um ihren Luftraum eigenständig zu schützen. Ein allfälliger Wiederaufbau zu einem späteren Zeitpunkt würde Jahrzehnte dauern. Mit einem nochmaligen Verzicht auf Neubeschaffungen würden nicht nur sämtliche Einsatzmittel verschwinden, sondern auch das gesamte Know-how ginge verloren, das für den Betrieb einer Luftwaffe erforderlich ist (Piloten, Einsatzleitung, Unterhalt usw.). Anders als bei der im Mai 2014 abgelehnten Gripen-Vorlage geht es bei der anstehenden Kampfflugzeugbeschaffung nicht mehr darum, wie viele Flugzeuge oder welchen Typ die Schweiz künftig besitzen wird, sondern um die grundsätzliche Frage, ob die Schweiz auch in Zukunft noch ihren Luftraum schützt oder nicht.

Schliesslich steht die Erneuerung der Mittel zum Schutz des Luftraums auch in Übereinstimmung mit der Umsetzung der Weiterentwicklung der Armee. Für die Erneuerung der Luftkriegsmittel gibt es verschiedene Optionen; zu berücksichtigen ist dabei aber, dass neben der Luftwaffe auch die Bodentruppen materiell weiterentwickelt werden müssen. Die Expertengruppe liegt insgesamt vier mögliche Optionen vor:

  • Mit der Option 1 würde das Konzept zur langfristigen Sicherung des Luftraumes des Bundesrates vollständig umgesetzt und das angestrebte Leistungsprofil bezüglich Durchhaltefähigkeit im Falle längerdauernder Spannungen und Kampfkraft der Luftwaffe in einem bewaffneten Konflikt am umfassendsten erfüllt. Herausforderungen wären die Schwierigkeiten bei der Realisierung und die betrieblichen Auswirkungen (z. B. Personalbedarf, Pilotenausbildung, Trainingsraumkapazitäten, industrielle Kapazitäten für den Unterhalt, Betriebsausgaben). Diese Option erhielt von der Begleitgruppe zwei Stimmen.
  • Mit der Option 2 liessen sich sämtliche Fähigkeiten zum Schutz des Luftraums qualitativ und quantitativ angemessen weiterentwickeln und nachhaltig modernisieren. Die Durchhaltefähigkeit bei der Wahrung der Lufthoheit wäre auch bei längerdauernden Spannungen sichergestellt und in einem bewaffneten Konflikt könnte in der Luftverteidigung eine ausreichende Anfangsleistung erbracht werden. Bei der bodengestützten Luftverteidigung würden neue Fähigkeiten erlangt, nämlich eine grössere Reichweite und eine Erweiterung des Zielbekämpfungsspektrums, und beim Schutz des oberen Luftraums würde eine angemessene Abdeckung erzielt. Der Objektschutz und der Schutz beweglich eingesetzter Kampfverbände gegen Bedrohungen im unteren Luftraum hingegen wäre limitiert. Diese Option erhielt von der Begleitgruppe ebenfalls zwei Stimmen.
  • Mit der Option 3 würde die heutige Flottengrösse (26 F-5 Tiger, 30 F/A-18C/D) auf rund 30 Kampfflugzeuge reduziert werden — de facto würde mit der Beschaffung die heutige F/A-18-Flotte ersetzt. Um die im Vergleich zu den anderen Optionen geringere Anzahl Kampfflugzeuge möglichst zu kompensieren, würde die bodengestützte Luftverteidigung grösserer Reichweite stärker ausgebaut. Dies würde es zusammengefasst erlauben, den alltäglichen Luftpolizeidienst quantitativ und qualitativ gut zu erfüllen, und auch in der Luftverteidigung könnte – dank des Ausbaus der bodengestützten Luftverteidigung – eine angemessene Leistung erbracht werden. Nachteilig wäre die begrenzte Durchhaltefähigkeit von einigen wenigen Wochen bei der Wahrung der Lufthoheit. Diese Option erhielt die Mehrheit der Stimmen (6) der Begleitgruppe und ist vermutlich politisch am ehesten tragbar (siehe Begleitgruppe Neues Kampfflugzeug, “Empfehlungen der Begleitgruppe zur Evaluation und Beschaffung eines neuen Kampflugzeugs“, 30.05.2017).
  • Mit der Option 4 wäre es möglich, die Durchhaltefähigkeit bei der Wahrung der Lufthoheit auch während längerdauernder Spannungen sicherzustellen, und bei der bodengestützten Luftverteidigung ebenso wie bei den Kampfflugzeugen könnten dieselben neuen Fähigkeiten erlangt werden wie bei den anderen Optionen. Die Anfangsleistung in einem bewaffneten Konflikt wäre im Vergleich zu den anderen Optionen geringer, da die alternden F/A-18C/D zu Beginn der 2030er Jahre kaum mehr mit Aussicht auf Erfolg in der Luftverteidigung eingesetzt werden könnten und durch eine zweite Tranche neuer Kampfflugzeuge bereits Mitte der 2020er Jahre ersetzt werden müssten. Eine solche Lösung wäre folglich weniger nachhaltig als die anderen drei Optionen. Sie erhielt am wenigsten Stimmen (1) der Begleitgruppe.

Die Expertengruppe spricht sich für eine umfassende Evaluation der zur Verfügung stehenden Kampfflugzeuge aus. Eine Beschränkung der Evaluation auf diejenigen Kampfflugzeuge, die bereits im Rahmen des Projekts Tiger-Teilersatz evaluiert wurden, oder gar lediglich eine Nachevaluation der zwischenzeitlich vorgenommenen Anpassungen wäre aus ihrer Sicht unzweckmässig. Doch die Zeit drängt: Die Typenwahl muss 2020 getroffen werden, um den eidgenössischen Räten die Beschaffungsbotschaft 2022 zu unterbreiten.

Die neuen Kampfflugzeuge sollen über den ordentlichen Budgetprozess des Bundes bzw. der Armee finanziert werden; alternative Finanzierungsmodelle sind sowohl finanzpolitisch und wirtschaftlich als auch sicherheitspolitisch und militärisch nachteilig. Damit müssten Gegner eine Beschaffung Neuer Kampfflugzeuge den Weg einer Initiative einschlagen, weil im Gegensatz zum Gripen-Fondsgesetz kein Bundesgesetzt die Möglichkeit eines Referendum eröffnen würde (übrigens eine entscheidende Fehlleistung des dazumal verantwortlichen Bundesrates Ueli Maurer).

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Qatar – in a lunatic neighborhood! (Updated)

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

In the Persian Gulf, Bahrain, the Emirates, and Kuwait rarely stray from Saudi Arabia’s sphere of influence. Qatar, however, has long pursued its own foreign policy in a region dominated by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, angering its powerful neighbor on the Arabian Peninsula.

On June 4, Bahrain, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and their ally Egypt severed relations with Qatar over its support for Islamists, namely politicians and militants affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Emirates even forced its three airlines — Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Flydubai — to cut their routes to Doha; and Saudi Arabia has not only banned Qatari airplanes from landing on its territory but also closed its border with Qatar. Qatari shoppers worry that their country, which imports most of its food, could face a crippling shortage because of the Saudi-led blockade.

CNNMoney observed that, whatever the immediate difficulties of the diplomatic impasse, the Qataris have access to more than enough money to sustain their lifestyles. In fact, Qatar’s riches contributed to its complex rivalry with its on-and-off allies in Riyadh, who tended to have different goals for the Arab and Muslim worlds. Qatar has used its largesse to back subsets of rebels in Libya and Syria, complicating Emirati and Saudi efforts to coordinate their foreign policy in the Middle East’s complex civil wars. Qatar’s flexible alliances have seen it deploy soldiers to participate in the anti-Iranian, Saudi-led coalition in Yemen while continuing relations with Iran. The US considers (or considered?) Qatar one of its closest allies in the Middle East, yet Doha hosts the most Taliban officials outside Afghanistan and Pakistan. Israeli officials and Palestinian militants opposed to one another maintain offices in the Qatari capital. Qatar’s overlapping alliances have angered what should be its traditional friends.

A Qatari jet fighter takes off for a mission over Libya in March, 2011. Qatar contributed with six Mirage 2000-5EDA fighter jets and two C-17 strategic transport aircraft to NATO-led no-fly zone enforcement efforts in Libya. At later stages in the Operation, Qatari Special Forces had been assisting in operations, including the training of the Tripoli Brigade and rebel forces in Benghazi and the Nafusa mountains. (Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty Images).

A Qatari jet fighter takes off for a mission over Libya in March, 2011. Qatar contributed with six Mirage 2000-5EDA fighter jets and two C-17 strategic transport aircraft to NATO-led no-fly zone enforcement efforts in Libya. At later stages in the operation, Qatari Special Forces had been assisting in operations, including the training of the Tripoli Brigade and rebel forces in Benghazi and the Nafusa mountains. (Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty Images).

The biggest disagreement between Qatar and Saudi Arabia stems from their opposing opinions of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the former views as an ideological proxy, the latter as an ideological threat. Egypt, whose current dictatorship overthrew the government of a Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood affiliate in a 2013 coup d’état, has rejected Qatar for similar reasons. A rogue Libyan government, aligned with Egypt, and the Yemeni government, dependent on Saudi support, have done the same. Sudan, a country long maligned by the international community, has gone as far as offering to mediate between the Qataris and the Saudis even though Qatar still helps Sudan resolve its own political dilemmas. Now, the Arab world faces one of the biggest threats to its unity.

The rift between Qatar and other regional powers could hinder the American-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS), Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. Qatar houses the largest US military base in the Middle East. All involved in the ongoing row (except the rogue Libyan government) are US-allies, and most participate in Inherent Resolve. The dispute may threaten US national interests further afield, hurting the petroleum industry. Foreign Policy asked whether this crisis could spark the next regional war, which the Americans would likely prefer to avoid.

The Egyptian–Saudi initiative might have backfired, for the Qataris may now find themselves dependent on the Iranians for food. The Iranians, in turn, will reap the financial benefits of closer relations with Qatar. Though US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted that the Qatari–Saudi dispute will affect American policy toward neither Iran nor IS, President of the United States Donald Trump appears to have taken credit for a spat that can only hurt American foreign policy. The US will likely prove little help in countering the Saudi narrative that Qatar has evolved into a rogue state.

The Qataris may need to turn to Kuwait and Oman, two countries that, unlike Sudan, have the authority, leverage, and neutrality to overcome this impasse. Both partake in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an intergovernmental organization whose other members comprise Bahrain, the Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Through the GCC, they could repair relations in the region. The Kuwaitis have already scheduled meetings with the Saudis, and the Omani foreign minister has visited Doha. Turkey too may try to help. The Maldives, meanwhile, fell into the Saudi orbit by cutting ties with Qatar.

Little should separate Qatar from the other countries in the GCC. All of them are Arab monarchies, and all except Oman have Sunni governments. However, Saudi Arabia, with the support of the Arab world’s largest country, has chosen to assert its dominance over its smaller neighbor. Though the Qataris possess significant resources, theirs barely compare to the Saudis’. In addition to petroleum, Saudi Arabia can claim leadership of the Muslim world because it controls Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities. Qatar, however, just has money, oil, and the results of a perhaps-too-flexible foreign policy. Nevertheless, the two countries would prove more powerful together than apart.

Saudi Arabia has divided the Arab and Muslim worlds and weakened its leadership as Iran, its archfoe, entrenches itself in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Qatar, which could have proved a critical supporter in Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iranian maneuvers, may become a decisive player in Iran’s sphere of influence.

Qatar houses the largest US military base in the Middle East: The US Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, provides command and control of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations.

Qatar houses the largest US military base in the Middle East: The US Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, provides command and control of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations.

Update on 09.07.2017 – Turkey’s relation with Qatar
Last Wednesday, Turkey brought forward troop deployment to Qatar and pledged to provide crucial food and water supplies. The two countries shared similar positions on the Egyptian Crisis and the Syrian Civil War, jointly contributed to the formation of the Syrian opposition’s civilian wing, the Syrian National Council and its military wing, the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The result was Turkey and Qatar being held responsible for the political costs of the bankrupt policy in Syria.

Regarding Egypt, Mohamed Morsi had excellent relations with Turkey and Qatar, while Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power with support from Saudi Arabia and remains dependent on Emirati and Saudi financial aid. In its attempt to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Saudi Arabia’s open target is Qatar, while Turkey is the undisclosed target. (Fehim Tastekin, “Turkey, Qatar strengthen economic ties“, al-Monitor, 09.505.2014; Aron Lund, “Are Saudi Arabia and Turkey About to Intervene in Syria?“, Carnegie Middle East Center, 24.04.2015).

If you are a small state like Qatar you have an interest in hosting several allies on your territory because it provides you with an indirect security guarantee from your ally. Moreover, it increases the costs for the aggressor of any potential attack. — Jean-Marc Rickli, a professor at King’s College London teaching at Qatar National Defence College cited in Tom Finn, “Turkey to set up Qatar military base to face ‘common enemies’“, Reuters, 16.12.2015.

Since the advent of the Justice and Development Party government in Turkey, both countries signed an agreement in July 2002 which involves cooperation in military training and arms sales. In 2015, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a law that stipulates defence co-operation between Qatar and Turkey on military training and defence-industrial projects, but also covers the deployment of Turkish troops in Qatar and vice versa. Later in December 2015 during a presidential visit to Qatar, Erdoğan said that Turkish and Qatari armies conducted their first joint military drill and that Turkey will establish a military base in Qatar — the first in the Gulf region — eventually comprising 3,000 ground troops as well as air and naval units, military trainers and special operations forces. Currently, there are only about 90-150 Turkish troops stationed in Qatar, but according to Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper, a military assessment team arriving in Qatar the coming days will consider a reinforcement.

Turkey has previously signed military agreements with a number of Asian and African countries for cooperation in military training and the defense industry. However, none of those countries or Turkey requested an article enabling the deployment of the Turkish Armed Forces to be included in those agreements. This new aspect of the military accord between Turkey and Qatar therefore raised questions. Osman Korutürk, a parliamentarian for the Republican Peoples Party speculated if the purpose of the deployment is to give military training to the Syrian opposition forces in Qatar.

According to Michael Stephens, a RUSI Research Fellow for Middle East Studies, at this time the Qatar Armed Forces extensively trained in Qatar groups such as Ahrar al-Sham (an Islamist rebel group which cooperated with the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and which was also supported by Saudi Arabia). This military agreement might imply greater coordination in terms of training groups like Ahrar al-Sham. (Mushin Karagülle, “Motivation behind recent military agreement with Qatar remains a mystery“, Today’s Zaman, 09.05.2015). Hacked emails from Hillary Clinton fingered that Qatar (but also Saudi Arabia) provides “clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region“.

Qatar's Minister of Defense Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah (L) welcomes U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (R) at his residence on April 22, 2017 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)

Qatar’s Minister of Defense Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah (L) welcomes U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (R) at his residence on April 22, 2017 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)

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Satellite Imagery Confirms Qatari Isolation

Left: Planet imagery of Qatar’s As Salwa Border Crossing dated 07JUN17 / Right: 05JUN17

As the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the rest of the GCC states unfolds, food, among other commodities, could be in short supply if some agreement isn’t reached soon.  Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt suspended their relationship with Qatar citing the country’s ties to Iran and other Islamist groups.  In doing so, the Arab states cut all modal links with the country, halting imports traversing their territory.

New satellite imagery acquired by Planet confirms the developments cited in recent news reports. The space snapshots show the land route connecting Qatar to the rest of the Arabian peninsula, closed as of 07JUN17. The As Salwa border crossing, located less than two miles from the Saudi state boundary, is the only legitimate land-based border crossing between the two countries.  Imagery from 05JUN17, just two days prior, show a busy crossing with trucks parked in both the primary and secondary inspection areas.

Unfortunately for Qatar, the desert country relies heavily on imports to feed its 2.3 million people. In particular, its two nearest neighbors, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, provide access to almost 30% of its food supply, according to data provided by the World Bank and reported by Bloomberg. The country also depends heavily on regional supply chains, particularly those in the UAE,  for re-exports. Rumors have already begun to circulate suggesting Kuwait and Oman, and perhaps Iran, could help fill the gap until the crisis has ended.

In addition to the land border, Qatar’s $7.4 billion Hamad port which recently began container operations last December, will also likely be affected. Planet imagery reviewed from 06, 07, and 08 June 2017, showed no mega container ships at the port since 04JUN17. Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, said that it could no longer transport goods in and out of Qatar and will require alternative shipping routes.

Posted in Chris Biggers, English, Intelligence, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How Iranian-Backed Shia Militias Got US Drones

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

Hussam al-Mayali, a contractor for the Ministry of Interior from Basra, pilots a drone to monitor ISIS positions in Fallujah (Photo: Laith al-Haydar).

Scanning the bullet-scarred rooftops of Iraq’s western desert, Hussam al-Mayahi (see photo above) deployed a small drone to search for ISIS fighters in Fallujah’s city center. As a contractor for the Ministry of Interior, he had travelled from his home in Basra to his country’s harshest front lines, over 560 km away. His drone, bought at a market near the Green Zone, acted as an artillery observer. Rocket launchers on Fallujah’s outskirts would then shell those rooftops as he provided coordinates.

Iran, the patron saint of anti-American Shia paramilitaries throughout the Greater Middle East, sees the Iraqi Civil War as an opportunity to field some of its own drones. Shia resistance movements and terrorist organizations that battled the United States Army during the Iraq War are now flying Iranian-made, military-quality drones alongside the Americans whom they once sought to kill.

Many of Iraq’s militiamen and policemen, often outgunned and understaffed, have resorted to purchasing off-the-shelf drones in Baghdad and on the Internet to improve the accuracy of their artillery batteries. The popular models come from DJI, a Chinese company that manufactures commercial and recreational drones for aerial photography and video. Iraqis can find DJI products at local toy stores.

Shia militias such as the Peace Companies have showcased their independence from Iran by building their own weaponry and ignoring the Islamic republic’s sectarian agenda. The Special Groups, a byword for Shia militias that Iran armed, funded, and trained to fight Americans and Sunnis during the Iraq War, have continued to follow Tehran’s directives. Iranian advisors often accompany them to the front lines. The Americans and the Iraqis have, meanwhile, long competed for control of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), where the military leans toward Washington, the police toward Tehran.

A CH-4 in service with the Iraqi Army Aviation.

A CH-4 in service with the Iraqi Army Aviation.

The ISF’s better-resourced military branches, such as the Iraqi Army, have access to combat drones. Last year, the Iraqi military purchased three copies of the Cai-Hong 4 (CH-4) — also a Chinese drone — to complement an American shipment of F-16s. The CH-4 is from the CASC Rainbow series of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. It resembles the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper flown by the American-led coalition but is larger, with a sixty-foot (18 m) wingspan.

In part, the Iraqis buy drones from China because China rarely questions its client, like Myanmar and Sudan, which human rights defenders have accused of committing genocide. Some of Iraq’s larger Shia militias have likewise looked to unscrupulous foreign patrons, requesting drones from Iran to reconnoiter and surveill the battlefield. “They have the best models,” said al-Mayahi, complaining that his off-the-shelf drone’s battery only lasted forty minutes.

Many of the Iranian-made drones deployed by the Shia militias in Iraq have evolved from reverse-engineered American technology. The US-military first used the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle, an unarmed military drone inspired by an earlier design for forecasting weather and spotting fish, in the Iraq War in August 2004. In December 2012, Iran claimed to have captured one.

The ScanEagle has an infrared camera and no need of an airfield for takeoff, a critical feature for war zones in Asia’s mountainous countries. It remains popular with militaries from Afghanistan and Yemen to Malaysia and Japan. Now, it’s providing overwatch for Shia militias in Iraqi skies.

I contacted commanders and press secretaries from Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and Kata’ib Hezbollah, two Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq whose leaders the US State Department has labelled terrorists. They confirmed that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had provided drones modelled on the ScanEagle, agreeing to discuss the general circumstances of their use. “We have three drones in Baghdad, two in Makhul [near Baiji], and one in al-Saqliwiyah [near Fallujah],” said Haider al-Baghdadi, the press secretary with al-Nujaba. He added that al-Nujaba’s models are variants of the Yasir, Iran’s drone reverse-engineered from the ScanEagle.

Kataib Hezbollah’s militiamen in Makhul and al-Saqlawiyah spoke to me on condition of anonymity: “The Iranian drones allow us to distinguish between civilian areas and ISIS areas,” said a militiaman in al-Saqlawiyah, discussing how Kataib Hezbollah used the drones in the Third Battle of Fallujah. “The drones are only deployed on occasion. When we don’t need them for specific objectives, the engineers keep them in storage for the sake of secrecy.”

Iran gave the ScanEagle drone copy to its proxy forces in Iraq.

Iran gave the ScanEagle drone copy to its proxy forces in Iraq.

A militiaman based in Makhul reported that Kataib Hezbollah kept most of its drones in Camp Speicher, an Iraqi air force academy and former American military base near Tikrit. A little over two years ago, Camp Speicher was the site of an ISIS-led massacre. According to the militiaman, Kataib Hezbollah has been using the air academy’s two 3 km runways since its recapture.

Al-Baghdadi implied the Shia militias’ apparent shortage of engineers. Al-Nujaba, like the Interior Ministry, had started hiring Iraqi contractors to maintain the Iranian drones. He declined to confirm whether Iran had offered its own engineering expertise.

Though Kataib Hezbollah and al-Nujaba are the only Iranian-backed Shia militias linked to terrorism, several others with dubious records on human rights and worrisome connections to Iran have acquired military-quality drones. Shunning discretion and secrecy for the sake of propaganda, many of these Shia militias have in fact posted pictures of their high-tech aircraft on social media. Pictures of fighters from Jund al-Imam Ali, another Iranian-backed Shia militia, posing with a Yasir have appeared on Twitter. I first spotted al-Nujaba’s copy of the Yasir on one of its members’ Facebook accounts. That member refused to comment on the matter.

Iranian support for the Shia militias extends beyond the Yasir and other ScanEagle variants. Kataib Hezbollah has shot video from a drone that, based on the landing gear, appears larger than the Yasir. Adam Rawnsley, an expert on drones and Iranian military technology, speculated that it might be an Iranian-made Ababil 3. Kataib Hezbollah called it a “Basir-1”.

The Ministry of Interior's drones, obtained from toy stores like Abu Abdullah's, lack the endurance and range of the Shia militias' advanced Iranian-made drones. Al-Mayali's can only fly for forty minutes (Photo: Laith al-Haydar).

The Ministry of Interior’s drones, obtained from toy stores like Abu Abdullah’s, lack the endurance and range of the Shia militias’ advanced Iranian-made drones. Al-Mayali’s can only fly for forty minutes (Photo: Laith al-Haydar).

The Ababil 3, like the ScanEagle and the Yasir, is an unarmed drone, but Iran has manufactured variants for short- and medium-range attack. In March 2009, the US-military downed an Ababil 3 that US-officials believed to be scouting routes for smuggling weapons from Iran to Iraq. Israeli officials asserted that Iran gave Hezbollah twelve variants of the Ababil capable of carrying a 40 kg warhead almost 250 km. It has since appeared in Sudan, Iran’s onetime ally.

The dangerous ramifications of Iranian-made drones’ proliferation is neither immediate nor obvious. Iranian-backed Shia militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and al-Nujaba have traded fighting their long-term American enemy for the short-term goal of defeating ISIS, and, in any case, they are using unarmed drones. The Ababil and the Yasir, flown by militiamen lacking experience, are redundant when combat drones piloted by the best militaries in the world are bombing ISIS daily.

“It is no surprise that Iran has made the reverse-engineered ScanEagles available to the militias in Iraq,” Dan Gettinger, founder of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, said in an email. “New platforms, like soldiers, typically require battlefield experience before they can be trusted and adopted on a wider scale. […] It’s unlikely that it poses much of a direct threat to the Western-led coalition against ISIS.” For now, the coalition and the militias are more or less on the same side.

The future implications of Iranian-backed militias with Iranian-made drones are the most alarming. Whether these drones endanger US-soldiers in Iraq or not, they will threaten US interests elsewhere. Iran has sent drones and Iraqi militiamen to Syria, where they are killing rebels trained by the CIA and the Pentagon. There are even reports that Iran’s drones have fallen into ISIS’s hands. The possibility of an ISIS drone fleet has sparked its own range of concerns.

The Shia militias are living up to their name as Iranian stooges. “I imagine this is a bit of the IRGC being accustomed to acting through local proxies, and a bit of it being easier or less (politically) risky to train an Iraqi operator than it is to forward deploy one of their own teams”, Galen Wright, an associate researcher with Armament Research Services, told me.

If the Iraqis can use the drones against ISIS, Iran’s allies in Lebanon and Palestine can deploy them against Israel, the most important US-ally in the Middle East and one of Iran’s greatest enemies. As Gettinger noted, the Iranians are getting experience where they can.

Back in Fallujah, al-Mayahi, the contractor for the Interior Ministry, was quick to see the advantages of the Iranian technology. “Kataib Hezbollah — its engineers have the best drones in Iraq,” he said with a little jealousy. “Can the Americans please give us drones like that?”

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US MOAB strike in Afghanistan was very Putin-esque

by Paul Iddon.

The United States’ 21,600 pound (9,800 kg) GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB) saw its combat debut in Afghanistan in mid-April against the terror organization “Islamic State” (ISIS) in a massive retaliatory strike for their murder of a Green Beret. The bomb is the largest conventional explosive in the US arsenal and its use – shortly after Trump’s bombardment of Syria’s Shayarat with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in response to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack – appears part of an emergent tendency in the US to respond with overwhelming force to attacks on its forces or violations of its stated red lines.

Example of an MOAB, the largest conventional bomb in the US arsenal.

Example of an MOAB, the largest conventional bomb in the US arsenal.

This is reminiscent of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent practices in the region. In late 2015 merely a day after Russian intelligence services concluded that the downing of the Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 over Egypt’s Sinai region was the work of ISIS, Moscow retaliated with a large bombing raid. Russia’s Tu-22M3 Backfires, Tu-95MS Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers flew non-stop from Russia to rain down bombs on ISIS (for details, see Louis Martin-Vézian, “Comprehensive Infographic about the Russian Intervention in Syria — December 2015 Update“, 08.12.2015). The Russian Defense Ministry claimed the bombers flew 127 sorties which successfully struck 206 targets.

The flying of such large aircraft from the Russian mainland demonstrated that Moscow can effectively strike its enemies far beyond its territories. It already has smaller but capable attack aircraft and bombers at its base in Syria which could likely neutralize any identifiable ISIS target in Syria. However that wouldn’t convey a projection of unrelenting strength which heavy bombers, or cruise missiles, flying from hundreds-of-miles does.

The B-52 Stratofortress long projected a similar symbol of US-American reach and strength. These flying fortresses can take off from the US mainland and drop tonnes of bombs, or fire cruise missiles, and fly directly back home, as they proved capable of doing in the 1991 Gulf War.

Also, using such weapons against universally-hated militants in countries already ravaged by war is a good way to test their effectiveness. Putin himself said, in reference to his own campaign in Syria, that “no one has yet invented a more effective way of training and honing skills than actual combat operations. […] [O]nly in the battlefield could many of what was used to genuinely test, identify existing problems and fix them.” Interestingly, following the MOAB strike former Afghan President Hamid Karzai furiously declared that the strike amounted to “the inhuman and most brutal misuse of [the Afghan] country as [a] testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”

Trump’s bombardment of Syria’s Shayarat with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles -- click on the image to enlarge (compiled by Louis Martin-Vézian of CIGeography).

Trump’s bombardment of Syria’s Shayarat with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles — click on the image to enlarge (compiled by Louis Martin-Vézian of CIGeography (Facebook / Twitter).

Explosive demonstrations of strength through use of such destructive heavy weapons did not start with the Afghan MOAB strike, or even Trump’s Tomahawk barrage of Shayarat. It started just before President Barack Obama vacated the Oval Office. In January he sent two stealthy B-2 Spirit bombers to strike ISIS targets in Libya which costed estimated $11 million. He also sent a B-52 Stratofortress, accompanied by drones, to bomb a training camp belonging to an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province in a strike which the Pentagon claimed killed over 100 terrorists.

While the MOAB is certainly an effective weapon to penetrate bunkers and cave networks in Afghanistan smaller alternatives could prove as capable, not to mention cheaper and less destructive to nearby civilian populations, against such opponents. In other words, use of such weapons in most scenarios constitutes severe overkill.

Kenneth Pollack, former CIA intelligence analyst and expert on Middle East politics and military affairs, outlined – while evaluating Iraqi counterinsurgency tactics against the Kurds in the 1960s – in his important 2002 military history “Arabs at War”: “To destroy an enemy through firepower one must fix him in place, and the only way to fix a guerrilla force in place is either to trap it in a confined area or to engage it in close combat. Thus, using firepower against guerrillas suffers from an inherent flaw: the guerrillas are too mobile and elusive to be pinned down and destroyed this way.”

Applied to today this means that unless such immense firepower is aimed precisely, the MOAB has a whopping one-mile blast radius, against such irregular adversaries their actual usefulness is extremely limited, if not counterproductive.

The MOAB impact in Afghanistan last April 13. US DoD photo.

When the United States initially entered Afghanistan in October 2001, following the devastating September 11th attacks the previous month, the deputy foreign minister of Iran at the time, Mohsen Aminzadeh, later recalled that: “There was nothing left in Afghanistan to destroy. It had all been destroyed already. American targeted bunkers – caves, actually. They dropped stupendous bombs that could destroy mountains. No result.” (Emphasis authors)

Rapid knee-jerk projections of strength using such lethal overwhelming firepower to quickly avenge attacks by the likes of ISIS or al-Qaeda will likely prove ineffective and even dangerous in the long run – especially if carried out in lieu of far more complex counter-terrorism strategies, which are absolutely essential for decisively defeating such groups.

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