For Your Eyes Only Military News

Syria: Iran Prepares For The End

October 23, 2012: The rebels are getting anti-aircraft missiles and as these weapons show up in one area after another the Syrian Air Force must bomb from a higher altitude. This means much less accurate attacks since the government does not have smart bombs. Fewer rebel fighters and more civilians are being hit.
The army still has several bases that are cut off from ground supply and surrounded by rebels. The soldiers under siege are demoralized and many surrender the first chance they get (away from officers who might shoot them). Losing these bases is bad for morale, as is the fact that the army keeps losing everywhere, while getting more and more bad publicity for air force attacks that kill mostly civilians. While most Alawites are still determined to fight to the end no matter what, a growing number are seeking another way out of this mess.

While Sunni Arabs from many nations have come to fight for the rebels, many Shia Arabs are being encountered fighting for the government. These include Hezbollah men from Lebanon and Iraqi Shia from pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. Hezbollah has been firing rockets across the border into rebel held Syrian villages. Rebels claim that thousands of Hezbollah gunmen have moved into Syria to fight for the Assad dictatorship. Meanwhile Iranians are taking over the task of providing bodyguards for senior members of the Assad government. Too many Syrians, including a growing number of Shia, want the Assads gone and the Iranian bodyguards give the Iranians some more leverage on the Assads. But Iran is basically tied to a lost cause.

Turkish artillery continues to fire a few shells into Syria each day, to discourage more Syrian fire into Turkey, including five killed on the 3rd. So far this month over a dozen Turkish civilians have been killed or wounded by this Syrian Army fire. Return fire by Turkish artillery has caused the Syrians to try real hard to not fire in the direction of Turkey (despite the many rebel bases just across the border in Turkey.)

Most Syrian rebel groups have agreed to join a new military coalition that would coordinate their efforts in taking down the Assad government. The main rebel military organization, the FSA (Free Syrian Army) is largely for supplying rebel fighters inside Syria. The FSA is based in Turkey and has less and less control over combat leaders inside Syria. Turkey and Qatar were behind this new deal, and applied lots of pressure to get many different rebels groups to agree. But the deal has not been signed yet, and many not be for another week or two. Meanwhile the FSA is constantly assuring donors that the Islamic radical groups are under control. But everyone agrees that such control is partial, and not complete. The general belief is that, once the rebellion is over, the Islamic terrorists will go back to attacking those that disagree with them (which includes almost everyone in the world.)

October 22, 2012: A Jordanian soldier was killed when his unit encountered a group of armed men trying to cross the border into Syria and a gun battle broke out. The twelve armed men were arrested. This was the first death of a soldier on the border since the Syrian civil war began. It’s increasingly common for Sunni Arabs in Jordan to join the rebels, usually after obtaining weapons in Jordan (which means they can’t cross legally.)

Elsewhere in Jordan police arrested 11 men and charged them with being Islamic terrorists planning to attack targets in Jordan. The arrested men had obtained mortars and assault rifles smuggled in from Syria. This was blamed on the growing number of Islamic terrorist groups operating in Syria, who continue to support worldwide Islamic rule. While these groups work with the rebels, they also plan to take over Syria after the rebel victory and turn Syria into a religious dictatorship. In the meantime, the Islamic terrorists support violence in neighboring countries. A lot of the aid for the rebels, coming from groups in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states, is earmarked for Islamic radical groups only. This is causing problems for countries bordering Syria, where Islamic terrorists are not welcome.

October 21, 2012:  A car bomb went off in a Christian neighborhood of the capital, near police headquarters, killing 13 and wounding many more. This was the first bombing directed at Christians, who are five percent of the populations and have generally sided with the Assads.

October 20, 2012: In Lebanon there was gunfire in the capital as a large anti-Syrian demonstration took place, protesting the death of an anti-Syrian security official the day before. Lebanon has long been divided over Syria. The Shia minority (about 40 percent of the population) favored the Assad dictatorship in Syria. Most Lebanese are hostile to Syria, in part because Syria occupied most of the country from 1990 to 2005, as part of the peace deal that ended the 1975-90 civil war. The Syrians used the occupation to aid Hezbollah and operate many criminal enterprises (some of which remained after Syrian troops were forced by Lebanese and Syrian pressure to leave in 2005.)

Another reason for anti-Syrian sentiments is the desire by many Syrians to make Lebanon part of Syria again. Over the last two thousand years, that was often the case. But for most of the last century Lebanon has been independent and most Lebanese want to keep it that way.

October 19, 2012: A bomb went off in a Christian neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, killing a senior security official (and seven others) who was openly anti-Assad. This angered many Lebanese who are still bitter about decades of Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Police arrested a former government official (Michel Samaha), long known as pro-Syria and accused him of planning the operation. Police say Michel Samaha admitted he transported explosives from Syria in his own automobile.

October 18, 2012: Warplanes bombed a residential area of Maaret Al Numan (a town near the Turkish border that the rebels captured nine days ago) and killed over 40 civilians. One bomb hit a mosque, where women and children had gone to seek shelter from the air raids. In the capital a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Interior Ministry, but he was the only casualty.

October 17, 2012: Syrian airliners have been banned from operating at EU (the 27 member European Union) airports. Syrian airliners can still fly through EU airspace, and can land if there is an emergency. This is yet another effort by the EU to force the Assad government to halt its attacks on Syrian civilians.
Outside the northern town of Maaret Al Numan rebels shot down a Syrian air force helicopter.

ETHIOPIA:  The Kenyan Alliance

October 23, 2012: Ethiopia continues to congratulate itself on the peaceful (so far) transition of power following the death of Meles Zenawi in August. Meles ruled Ethiopia for 21 years. Ethiopia has also had a history of very violent power transitions. The new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, was Meles picked successor, so he arrived with the mantle of authority. Meles made Hailemariam his second-in-command in 2010, and in retrospect it appears Meles had a power transfer plan in mind. Ethiopia has new national elections in 2015.

October 20, 2012: The African Union peacekeeping operation Somalia (AMISOM) is touting the seizure of the Somali port of Kismayo as a victory but one that does not signal the defeat of the Somali Al Shabaab Islamist militia.

The Kenyan military performed extremely well in the latter phases of the attack on the port and Kenyans are proud of the Kenya Defense Force’s (KDF) achievements. However, diplomats in the Horn of Africa know the real victor in Somalia is Ethiopia. The Kenyans were more acceptable military interveners than the Ethiopians, because so many Somalis regard the Ethiopians as invaders, even if a large of majority of Somalis oppose Al Shabaab. Ethiopia is the geographic nexus of the horn. It borders on Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Kenya. It is also the region’s economic powerhouse. Ethiopia’s alliance with Kenya gives it a reliable security partner in the Horn. Trouble with Islamist Sudan (northern Sudan) brought Kenya and Ethiopia together. Tribal disturbances along the Kenya-Ethiopia border forced their governments to work together on bi-lateral security issues. The Somali experience, however, has sealed that alliance. (Austin Bay)

October 18, 2012: Peace negotiations between Ethiopia and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) have broken down again. Kenya was serving as the mediator in the newest round of talks.  The ONLF said that Ethiopia had demanded that the rebel group recognize the authority of the Ethiopian constitution as a pre-condition for talks. The ONLF said that the condition was unacceptable because the talks were supposed to begin without pre-conditions. There is a Kismayo connection to the talks. Many ethnic Ogaden Somalis live in Kismayo and surrounding areas. Kenya had hoped that positive negotiations between the ONLF and Ethiopia would help improve political cooperation among Ogaden clans in southern Somalia.

October 17, 2012: A grenade attack in Coast state wounded ten Kenyan policemen. The policemen were searching a house and had found a weapons cache. Police attributed the grenade attack to the Somali Al Shabaab. Kenyan authorities believe Al Shabaab is responsible for several grenade attacks and shootings in Coast state that have occurred this year.

October 16, 2012:  Somali government and Kenyan military forces said that they are confronting a security vacuum in the city of Kismayo. Somali forces have arrested several dozen suspected Al Shabaab fighters in the port city.
Kenya charged Sheik Mohammed Dor with inciting violence in the country. Dor is a member of parliament and represents a Muslim area. Dor denied the charges. He is also accused of supporting the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). The MRC is a separatist organization which favors secession for the Coast province.

October 15, 2012: A Kenyan municipal leader was hacked to death in the Coast province town of Kwale.  Police called the man’s murder a revenge slaying for the arrest Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) leader, Omar Mwanbyadzi. A gunfight broke out when police arrested Mwanbyadzi and two people died in the firefight.

October 14, 2012: Kenya held ceremonies commemorating Kenya Defense Forces Day. This is also the first anniversary of Kenya’s intervention in Somalia.

October 12, 2012: Al Shabaab has threatened Kenya with further retribution for its involvement in Somalia. An Al Shabaab spokesman vowed to wage war on Kenyan soil.

October 11, 2012: Ethiopian troops in armored vehicle and trucks are reportedly massed in the Somali border town of Luq. A Somali National Army (SNA) commander reported that the Ethiopian soldiers are preparing for a major offensive on Al Shabaab controlled territory.
October 9, 2012: Kenya claimed that its military forces killed over 3,000 Al Shabaab fighters since it intervened in Somalia in October 2011.  Kenya lost 22 soldiers in Somalia.

Ethiopia released 75 Eritreans captured in March during a cross border raid on a military camp. The prisoners were Eritrean soldiers and Ethiopia held them as prisoners of war.  Seven of the released Eritrean applied for political asylum in Ethiopia.

October 2, 2012: AMISOM units extended their control over the Somali port of Kismayo. Al Shabaab fighters claimed they set off a bomb in the port. They also said they would launch further attacks on AMISOM soldiers.  The Somali government estimated the Al Shabaab still has between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters in southern Somalia.

October 1, 2012:  Kenyan naval vessels shelled Al Shabaab coastal positions in the Kismayo area as sporadic fighting continued in the area.

ATTRITION: Death By Default

October 23, 2012: It’s rare for a navy to lose a ship to lawyers, but it sometimes happens. The most recent such loss occurred in Africa, where an American financial firm (N.M.L. Capital) used a decade old bond default by Argentina to persuade a local judge to seize an Argentinian warship visiting Ghana. The three-masted ship Libertad, with 330 crew and cadets aboard was seized on October 2dn. Argentina insists that international law prohibits the seizure of warships like this, but the Ghana court points out that the Argentinian ship is for training, powered by sail unarmed and that the defaulted bonds allowed such seizures. The American bond holders are demanding $20 million from Argentina if they want their sailing ship back.

N.M.L. Capital has $370 million worth of those bonds it is trying to collect on.
Argentina defaulted on $95 billion in government bonds in 2001, and made deals with most bond holders (in order to rebuild its international credit rating) by paying about 30 percent of the value of the defaulted bonds. Not all bondholders accepted that deal and some went to American courts to sue Argentina for the full amount of about $1.6 billion in bonds. Success in those lawsuits led N.M.L. Capital to seize Argentinean government property wherever it could.

Back in Argentina the head of the navy was fired, as was the head of the national intelligence agency (which is supposed to keep an eye on those who are still trying to collect on those old bonds). Normally the Argentinian Navy does not send its ships outside the Americas, but the government is trying to encourage trade with Africa and the training ship was sent on a rare “good will” tour of African ports.

ARTILLERY: FireFinder Follow-On Fielded

October 23, 2012: The U.S. Army is finally replacing its older AN PQ-36/37 FireFinder artillery spotting radar systems with the new and improved AN/TPQ-53. Troops in Afghanistan continue to call the new version “FireFinder” or “counterfire radar” even though the new TPQ-53 is a visibly new and different looking system, each consisting of two trucks (one for the radar the other for the control center and backup generator.)

Two years ago the U.S. sent the AN/TPQ-53 to Afghanistan for final testing. Earlier this year the army ordered 51 of the AN/TPQ-53 systems. Easier to use and repair, as well as more reliable than its predecessor (the AN/TPQ-36/37), the TPQ-53 can also scan all around (360 degrees), rather than just 90 degrees (as with the older system), and is faster as well. The army wants to buy at least 180 TPQ-53s, for about $9 million each. But so far the army only has money to buy about fifty of them. The older FireFinder is cheaper and still gets the job done. This is why some countries (like Iraqi) want it. Many Iraqis have seen the older FireFinder in action. They know it works.

The older FireFinder (AN/TPQ-36/37) radar had to overcome a bad reputation it acquired when it first came to Iraq. That was often for failing to detect incoming mortar fire. These were problems that were fixed. FireFinder was developed in the 1970s, based on Vietnam experience with enemy mortar and rocket attacks, but didn’t get a real combat workout until after September 11, 2001.

Both the old and new FireFinders are radar systems which, when they spots an incoming shell, calculates where it came from and transmits the location to a nearby artillery unit, which then fires on where the mortar is (or was). This process takes 3-4 minutes (or less, for experienced troops.) FireFinder worked as advertised but got little use until U.S. troops entered Iraq. After that FireFinder was very effective and heavily used. Too heavily used. There were not a lot of spare parts stockpiled for FireFinder and several hundred million dollars-worth had to be quickly ordered. The manufacturer has also introduced new components that are more reliable and easier to maintain.

Some FireFinders failed to catch incoming fire because the enemy was using tactics that fooled the radar. For example, in Iraq, American bases were generally on higher ground than the mortars firing at them. Putting bases on the high ground enables you to watch more of the surrounding terrain. But FireFinder needs a line-of-sight to get a good fix on the firing weapon’s position. If the mortar was too far below the radar, FireFinder could not accurately spot where the fire was coming from.

Another problem was that if the mortar was too close FireFinder was much less likely to quickly determine where the fire was coming from. So the enemy mortar teams got as close as they could before firing. This still made the mortar teams vulnerable to counterattack by coalition troops but not the immediate (in a few minutes) artillery fire that FireFinder can make happen under the right conditions.

At first, the army was going to halt further upgrades on FireFinder, which, after all was developed over thirty years ago, and begin developing the TPQ-53, a new system that can better deal with the kinds of problems encountered in Iraq. But FireFinder had been so useful that new upgrades were pursued anyway, while work continued on the TPQ-53. The upgrades have also been made available to other users of FireFinder (including allies in the Middle East, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey). FireFinders are still doing most of the work out there, and it will be several years before TPQ-53 replaces a significant number of them.


October 23, 2012: India has ordered 200 of the air-launched version of the BrahMos missile from Russia. India is already using ground and ship launched versions. Three years ago, the BrahMos block II cruise missile failed its first operational test as a ground launched weapon. The cause was a defective guidance system, which was fixed.

The Indian Army and navy have so far bought over a thousand BrahMos. The navy is arming most of its large warships with BrahMos and the army is buying 80 launchers in the next ten years. Russia has not yet ordered any BrahMos, although there are plans to obtain it for new surface ships. The recent Indian purchase was for the lighter (2.5 tons) version for use by aircraft. A similar lightweight version is being developed for submarines.

The basic 3.2 ton BrahMos has a range of 300 kilometers and a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 1,000 meters/3,100 feet per second) than a rifle bullet. Guidance is GPS or inertial to reach the general area of the target (usually a ship or other small target), then radar that will identify the specific target and hit it. The high speed at impact causes additional damage (because of the weight of the entire missile.)

India and Russia developed the weapon together, and now offer the BrahMos for export. The high price of each missile, about $2-3 million (depending on the version), restricts the number of countries that can afford it. The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. Different versions of the PJ-10 can be fired from aircraft, ships, ground launchers or submarines. The maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers an hour makes it harder to intercept, and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. The air launched version weighs 2.5 tons, the others, three tons or more.

The 9.4 meter (29 foot) long, 670mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Russian SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile, which was still in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer eventually made a deal with India to put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development. The BrahMos is being built in Russia and India, with the Russians assisting India in setting up manufacturing facilities for cruise missile components. Efforts are being made to export up to 2,000, but no one has placed an order yet. Russia and India are encouraged enough to invest in BrahMos 2, which will use a scramjet, instead of a ramjet, in the second stage.

This would double speed, and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.

India indicates it plans to make the missile a major weapon system. The BrahMos can carry a nuclear warhead, but is designed mainly to go after high value targets that require a large warhead and great accuracy. The BrahMos could take out enemy headquarters, or key weapons systems (especially those employing electronic or nuclear weapons.)

WARPLANES: F-22 Rival Revised

October 23, 2012: India is revising the terms of its deal to work with Russia to build a rival for the American F-22/F-35 “5th generation” fighters. India is insisting on building more of the new T-50 (or PAK-FA) in India, and outfit Indian T-50s with Indian or Western electronics and other equipment. As part of this change, India will buy fewer T-50s built in Russia. That order has been cut from 200 to 144. Russia says the T-50 will now enter service in 2019, but India is willing to delay its version an additional year or more in order to modify the “T-50I” to Indian specifications.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the T-50 has been delayed two years. It will now, barring more delays, be ready for mass production in 2019. India was not happy about this. India is picking up half the $6 billion dollar development cost and feels they are not having enough say in how the project proceeds. A two year delay means rising costs and the Russians have not announced any budget changes yet. Moreover, the $6 billion only covers work on the basic aircraft. All the avionics will be extra, and India is unclear of how much extra.

That’s apparently the main reason why India is now going to supply its own electronics, something the Russians are not happy about and are unable to prevent. India has had serious (and expensive) problems with Russian development cost projections before. India originally planned to buy 250 of the new T-50s, for about $100 million each. That number fell to 200 and now 144. An increasing number of Indians now see the T-50 possibly following the same cost trajectory as the F-22.

The T-50 prototype first flew two years ago and India will get its first flyable prototypes in two years. Russians and Indians have been doing a lot of tinkering with the design. While the T-50 is the stealthiest aircraft the Russians have, it is not nearly as stealthy as the F-22, or even the F-35 or B-2. The Russians are apparently going to emphasize maneuverability instead of stealth. India wants more stealth and would prefer a two-seat aircraft. There are also problems perfecting the engines for the T-50 and the defensive electronics.

This puts the T-50 at a big disadvantage against the F-22 or F-35, which try to detect enemy aircraft at long distance, without being spotted, and then fire a radar guided missile (like AMRAAM). These problems are apparently the main reason for the two year delay.

The T-50 is a 34 ton fighter that is more maneuverable than the 33 ton Su-27, has much better electronics, and is stealthy. It can cruise at above the speed of sound. It also costs more than twice as much as the Su-27. Russia is promising a fighter with a life of 6,000 flight hours and engines good for 4,000 hours. Russia promises world-class avionics, plus a very pilot-friendly cockpit. The use of many thrusters and fly-by-wire will produce an aircraft even more maneuverable than earlier Su-30s (which have been extremely agile).

The T-50 is not meant to be a direct rival for the F-22 because the Russian aircraft is not as stealthy. But if the maneuverability and advanced electronics live up to the promises, the aircraft would be more than a match for every fighter out there except the F-22. If such a T-50 was sold for well under $100 million each there would be a lot of buyers. For the moment the T-50 and the Chinese J-20/30 are the only potential competitors for the F-22. Like the F-22 development expenses are increasing, and it looks like the T-50 will cost at least $120 million each (including a share of the development cost) but only if 500 or more are manufactured. Russia hopes to build as many as a thousand.

Only 187 F-22s were built because of the high cost. American developers are now seeking to apply their stealth, and other technologies, to the development of combat UAVs. Thus by the time the T-50 enters service, in 7-10 years, it may already be made obsolete by cheaper, unmanned, stealthy fighters.

The latest American warplanes, the F-22 and F-35, are often called “5th generation” fighters. This leaves many wondering what the other generations were. The first generation of jet fighters was developed during and right after World War II (German Me-262, British Meteor, U.S. F-80, Russian MiG-15.) These aircraft were, even by the standards of the time, difficult to fly and unreliable (especially the engines). The 2nd generation (1950s) included more reliable, but still dangerous to operate, aircraft like the F-104 and MiG-21. The 3rd generation (1960s) included F-4 and MiG-23. The 4th generation (1970s) included F-16 and MiG-29. Each generation has been about twice as expensive (on average, in constant dollars) as the previous one. But each generation is also about twice as safe to fly and cheaper to operate. Naturally, each generation is more than twice as effective as the previous one. The Russians are still working on their 5th generation, although some of the derivatives of their Su-27 are at least generation 4.5. One of the reasons the Soviet Union collapsed was the realization that they could not afford to develop 5th generation warplanes to stay competitive with America. The Russians had a lot of interesting stuff on the drawing board and in development, but the bankruptcy of most of their military aviation industry during the 1990s has left them scrambling to put it back together ever since. At the moment, the Russians are thinking of making a run for the 6th generation warplanes, while will likely be unmanned and largely robotic.


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