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26 Feb 21. General Notes Value, Limitations of New START Treaty. America’s nuclear triad consists of heavy bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
The nuclear triad is important because it’s there to deter Russia, China and, to some extent, North Korea and Iran from delivering nuclear strikes on the U.S. and its allies, said Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He spoke at the virtual Air Force Association’s Aerospace Warfare Symposium today, mentioning aspects of the New START treaty with Russia, which places verifiable limits on all Russian-deployed ICBMs. That treaty is in effect until Feb. 4, 2026.
Hyten said he and other Defense Department officials think the New START treaty is a good thing because it limits nuclear weapons and has a process to verify adherence.
However, the New START treaty should be just the beginning of a larger discussion with Russia and China about placing further limits on nuclear weapons proliferation, he said.
For instance, Russia is building new capabilities — such as nuclear-armed torpedoes, nuclear armed cruise missiles and sea-launched ballistic missiles — that can threaten the U.S. and are not accountable under the treaty.
And, then, there’s China, Hyten said. “China is the fastest growing nuclear power in the world. They’re building at a percentage level, more new nuclear weapons than anybody on the planet. They’re building new platforms. They’re building new facilities, new airplanes, new missiles of a variety of types, new hypersonic capabilities, hypersonic capabilities that we have no defenses for, hypersonics that can be nuclear tipped.
“And we have no arms control agreement with China in any way, so we have no insight into their nuclear doctrine,” he added. “That is a difficult place to be.”
The other problem is that while Russia is finishing its nuclear modernization program and China is in the midst of rapid modernization, the U.S. is just starting its nuclear modernization program, he said.
The U.S. must also have a credible sea-launched cruise missile in order to respond to the Russian capabilities and a low-yield nuclear weapon that can be deployed in small numbers on submarines to deal with the thousands of low-yield nuclear and tactical nuclear weapons Russia is building that aren’t accountable with the New START treaty, he said.
“We have to continue to invest in our triad and make sure that we look at all of our adversaries’ capabilities because the one thing we don’t want is nuclear confrontation and nuclear war on this planet. And the only way to avoid that is to deter our adversaries,” he said.
Air Force Gen. Timothy M. Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, also spoke at the event. (Source: US DoD)
26 Feb 21. UN Security Council ceasefires resolution passed unanimously: Foreign Secretary’s statement. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2565 for ceasefires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of coronairus (COVID-19) vaccines was unanimously agreed.
Today, Friday 26 February, the UN Security Council Resolution 2565 for ceasefires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of vaccines was unanimously agreed. The UK called for this resolution as Chair of the UN Security Council this month. The resolution was co-sponsored by 112 countries, including all 15 members of the Security Council.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said:
We’re proud to lead in securing the swift and unanimous agreement of today’s UN Security Council ceasefires resolution, which will help get vaccines to people living in conflict zones.
The resolution also builds support for COVAX, through which the UK is providing over a billion vaccine doses for the most vulnerable people around the world – because we need a global solution to a global pandemic. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
26 Feb 21. Defense Official Says F-15s Struck Iranian-Backed Militia Facilities in Syria. Last night’s U.S. military airstrike over eastern Syria involved two F-15E Strike Eagles that dropped seven, precision-guided munitions, which totally destroyed nine facilities and partially destroyed two others, functionally destroying them, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said.
The airstrike was conducted against the infrastructure used by Iranian-backed militant groups, Kirby told reporters today.
“The strike was authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq and to ongoing threats to those personnel. We recognize the significance of this operation as the first of its kind under the new administration” of President Joe Biden, he said.
The structures were in the city of Abu-Kamal, Syria, near a terrorist entry-control point close to the Syria-Iraq border, Kirby said, adding that the location is known to facilitate activity by Iranian-allied militia groups.
“We have preliminary details about casualties on site, but I won’t be able to discuss additional details at this time because our battle-damage assessment is ongoing,” Kirby said, adding this response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners and notification to Congressional leadership before the strikes.
“As we made clear last night and, I think, through President Biden’s order, he made clear that the United States will act to protect American and coalition personnel and our security interests in the region,” he noted.
The purpose for striking those targets was twofold, according to Kirby: to clearly try to make an impact on the groups and their ability to conduct future attacks and to send a clear signal that the United States is going to protect its people and its interests and those of its partners in the region.
“These targets were chosen carefully, very deliberately,” Kirby said.
“This really was a defensive strike meant to help protect … American forces and coalition partners,” he said.
The United States is confident the targets were legitimate and used by groups associated with recent attacks. They were structures and housing used to help perpetrate attacks on U.S. troops and its coalition partners in Iraq, the spokesman said.
“We have preliminary indications of casualties on site. I’m not going to go any further than that,” Kirby noted. “The Russians were contacted just prior to the strike using the deconfliction mechanism that is in place.”
“[Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III] was very sincere when he praised our Iraqi partners for the investigative and intelligence work they did,” Kirby said. “There was some very good work done on the intelligence side that helped lead to these successful strikes.”
The F-15E Strike Eagle is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitudes day or night and in all weather, according to the Air Force. (Source: US DoD)
26 Feb 21. Vietnam strengthens fortifications in disputed South China Sea, satellite images reveal. Vietnam has continued to beef up its outposts in the disputed South China Sea with improved fortifications and infrastructure, although the scale of its activities is modest compared to that carried out by China, according to a new report.
Emplacements for anti-aircraft and coastal defense systems have been built on reclaimed land at West Reef and Sin Cowe Island, according to the report by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, or AMTI, which is part of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It made its assessments based on analysis of satellite imagery in cooperation with Simularity, who says on its website that its software “automatically analyzes geospatial imagery and data to automatically find and classify unusual changes.”
The AMTI report added that over the last two years, “West Reef and Sin Cowe Island have seen the most drastic changes” of all of Vietnam’s outposts in the disputed Spratly Islands group, noting that most of the 70 acres of dry land at West Reef is reclaimed land, with a further 26 acres at Sin Cowe Island being similarly reclaimed.
The changes include the building of “several coastal defense installations, administrative buildings, concrete pads and bunkers, and a large tower structure presumably for communications of signals intelligence” at West Reef over the past two years, the report said.
Meanwhile, Sin Cowe Island saw the construction of an array of installations on its northern coastline, including tunnels, coastal fortifications and bunkers, the report noted. These are in the form of circular or semicircular concrete pads attached by a short road to a hardened bunker, and are similar to the types of installations previously built on other Vietnamese-held islands and reefs in the area.
The installations are believed to be for mobile coastal defense artillery systems, although they could also in theory hold longer-ranged system such as the IMI Systems-made Extended Range Artillery rocket system or land-based anti-ship missile systems, which would bring China’s bases on its own reclaimed islands within range.
AMTI also noted that Vietnam made smaller upgrades to other islands under its control over the past two years, including new buildings and a dome believed to be housing an “unknown sensing or communications system” at Pearson Reef, Namyit and the Spratly Islands.
Vietnam and China are among six Southeast Asian nations with competing claims to part or all of the potentially resource-rich Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea. The two countries have been vocal and proactive in reinforcing their claims.
For its part, China has reclaimed and built up sprawling bases on several islands it occupies, including extensive harbor and airfield facilities in several places, and smaller but still extensive military facilities on others.
(Source: Defense News)
25 Feb 21. U.S. Conducts Defensive Airstrikes Against Iranian-backed Militia in Syria. American forces have struck at an Iranian-backed militia in Syria that launched rocket attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby told reporters traveling with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin.
At President Joe Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces, earlier this evening, launched airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in Eastern Syria. These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to on-going threats to those personnel, Kirby said.
“There’s not much more that I’ll be able to add at this point other than the fact that we’re confident in the target we went after, we know what we hit,” the secretary of defense said. “We’re confident that the target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes.”
According to the press secretary, the strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups including Kait’ib Hezbollah and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
“We are very deliberative in our approach as you would expect us to be,” Austin continued. “We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence for us, and that was very helpful to us in refining the target.”
This proportionate military response was conducted along with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners. The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both Eastern Syria and Iraq, Kirby said.
“Let me say that I am very proud of the men and women in our force that carried out the strike. As you would expect, they performed in a very professional manner, and we are grateful for their service,” Austin said.
(Source: US DoD)
23 Feb 21. Afghan peace talks resume, but path is anything but certain. With violence spiking, Afghanistan’s warring sides have returned to the negotiation table, ending more than a month of delays amid hopes that the two sides can agree on a reduction of violence – and eventually, an outright ceasefire.
Taliban spokesman Dr. Mohammad Naeem tweeted Monday night that talks had resumed in the Middle Eastern State of Qatar, where the insurgent movement maintains a political office. There were no details other than the atmosphere was “cordial,” a commitment that negotiations should continue and an announcement that the first item of business will be setting the agenda.
When talks ended abruptly in January, just days after beginning, both sides submitted their wish lists for agendas. The task now is for the two sides to sift through the respective wish lists, agree on items to negotiate and the order in which they will be tackled.
The priority for the Afghan government, Washington and NATO is a serious reduction in violence leading to a cease fire. The Taliban have said it is negotiable, but until now have resisted any immediate cease fire.
Washington is reviewing the February 2020 peace deal the previous Trump administration signed with the Taliban that calls for the final withdrawal of international forces by May 1. The Taliban have resisted suggestions of even a brief extension, but a consensus is mounting in Washington for a delay in the withdrawal deadline.
There is even a suggestion of a smaller intelligence-based force staying behind that would focus almost exclusively on counter-terrorism and an increasingly active and deadly Islamic State affiliate, headquartered in eastern Afghanistan.
But neither Washington nor NATO has yet to announce a decision on the fate of an estimated 10,000 troops, including 2,500 American troops, still in Afghanistan. The Biden administration has emphasized a political solution to the protracted Afghan conflict, retained Zalmay Khalilzad, the man who negotiated the U.S. peace deal with the Taliban and until now avoided any definitive statements about the road forward.
The resumption in talks in Doha follows on the heels of a blizzard of diplomatic activity including a steady stream of officials to Pakistan and its powerful Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. Pakistan is seen as critical to getting the Taliban back to the table but also to pressing the insurgent movement — whose leadership is headquartered in Pakistan — to reduce violence in Afghanistan.
Just this past week the U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie was in Islamabad, as was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Afghan envoy, Zamir Kabulov and Qatar’s foreign ministry’s special envoy Dr Mutlaq Bin Majed Al Qahtani. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s special envoy Umar Daudzai is expected in Islamabad on Wednesday.
While details of the meetings have been sketchy, Afghanistan featured prominently and officials familiar with the talks said a reduction of violence and eventual cease fire dominated discussions.
Pakistan, which also still hosts 1.5 million Afghan refugees has repeatedly said the only solution in Afghanistan is political and has previously been credited with getting the Taliban to the negotiating table.
The latest diplomatic activity in Islamabad also coincidentally comes as Pakistan is being discussed at a meeting underway this week in Paris of the Financial Action Task Force probing terrorism financing and money laundering. Pakistan is currently on a so-called grey list, the last step before a black listing which would seriously erode the country’s ability to borrow money.
Few analysts expect Pakistan to be blacklisted, which so far includes only Iran and North Korea, but Islamabad is pressing hard to be removed from the grey list. While Pakistan has allies, like China, among the 37-member countries that make up FATF, Russian and U.S. support is critical to being removed from the grey list.
Still the issues ahead for Taliban and Afghan government are thorny ones and it isn’t immediately clear whether any country has sufficient influence with either side to force a peace deal that will last.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has flatly refused an interim administration, and his critics accuse him of wanting to hold on to power. Meanwhile, a Taliban official says they want a “new Islamic government” that would not include Ghani, but refused to give details of this government and whether it would even include elections. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
In an open letter to the American people last week, the Taliban’s lead negotiator in the U.S./Taliban deal, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar urged compliance with the deal, promised rights for men and women “based on Islamic law” without stipulating, vowed not to interfere in any other nation, and also vowed to end the world’s largest crop of poppies, which produces opium used in the production of heroin. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Military Times)
23 Feb 21. UAE weapons maker EDGE wants in on F-35 supply chain. United Arab Emirates’ state-owned weapons maker EDGE expects to be involved in the supply chain of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 war plane if the sale of U.S. planes to the Gulf Arab state goes ahead, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is re-examining the sale of 50 F-35 stealth jets, 18 armed drones and other military equipment approved by former President Donald Trump during his last days in office.
“Any platform that is coming to the country, we are now getting heavily involved in this supply chain in whatever component that makes sense for the client and for us,” EDGE CEO Faisal al-Bannai said at Abu Dhabi’s Idex defence exhibition.
EDGE, a $5bn state defence conglomerate, could integrate subsystems, products and weapons, perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) work and also develop weapons such as missiles for the jet, he said.
EDGE and Lockheed later announced in a statement they had reached a preliminary agreement to jointly “explore industrial participation opportunities across the UAE’s aerospace and defence industry.”
The statement did not mention the F-35 or any other system.
The Gulf state, one of Washington’s closest Middle Eastern allies, was promised a chance to buy the war planes when it established formal ties with Israel last year.
EDGE was in “advanced discussion” with several Israeli defence companies about jointly funding and developing missiles and unmanned platforms, Bannai said without identifying the firms.
“Quite soon there will be announcements,” he said.
It is not clear when Washington will complete its review, though even if approved the first F-35 is not expected to be delivered for several years.
“Every country has their own process. I think they will go through their process and come to what is a right decision for them,” Bannai said of the U.S. review.
The UAE’s Ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba has said he is confident the sale would go through.
The jets are a major component of a $23bn sale of high-tech armaments from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp to the UAE.
The F-35, the world’s most advanced war plane, would give the UAE a “huge deterrence capability” against regional foe Iran, an Arab diplomat in the Gulf told Reuters.
“The F-35 gives a lot of control over the Gulf skies. It’s a big thing. It’s a game changer for the UAE,” the diplomat said.
EDGE, tasked with supplying advanced weapons to the UAE armed forces, is focused on developing drones, unmanned vehicles, smart weapons and electronic warfare equipment rather than conventional weaponry.
“We are a small country in size and population … we are extremely focused on deploying more smarter technology that can apply a ‘force multiplier’ to our army,” Bannai said.
EDGE is developing a directed energy system, to be unveiled next year, that can be used against aerial and land threats.
EDGE announced on Tuesday it would supply Rheinmetall’s Oerlikon Skynex air defence system with a short-range interceptor missile system known as SkyKnight. (Source: Reuters)
24 Feb 21. Indian Govt approves defence acquisition proposals worth Rs 13,700 cr. Procurement from the private sector will not be limited to 15 per cent but will go much beyond that’ Defence Minister Rajnath Sin.gh. (Photo: Twitter/@rajnathsingh)
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) today approved capital acquisition proposals worth Rs 13,700 crore of various weapons and equipment systems required by the armed forces.
All these acquisition proposals will be indigenously designed, developed and manufactured, the Defence Ministry said after a meeting of the DAC, chaired by defence minister Rajnath Singh.
The acquisitions will include inter-alia platforms and systems designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
To meet the government’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ goals on a time-bound defence procurement process and faster decision-making and to systematically work towards reducing the time taken for capital acquisitions, the DAC also approved that all capital acquisition contracts (delegated and non-delegated) will be concluded in two years.
The MoD, in consultation with the services and all stakeholders, will come up with a detailed plan of action for achieving the same.
The defence minister said the government would notify next month another list of defence items which would not be imported.
At a webinar on effective implementation of Budget provisions in the defence sector, he also announced that a Letter of Intent (LoI) for Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) would be given to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) so that the choppers could be inducted into the armed forces, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence.
“Procurement from the private sector will not be limited to 15 per cent but will go much beyond that,” he said. He declared projects worth Rs 500 crore to Rs 2,000 crore would be announced on a competitive basis and would be finalised within one year.
A “Fund of Funds” worth Rs 10,000 crore has been created for Start-ups and MSMEs. Complete support would be provided to the defence and aerospace sector in utilising the fund, he added. Singh said acceptance in principle would be accorded to at least five Make-1 projects this year.
The defence minister hailed the Union Budget as a healthy mix of promise, potential and progress. He stressed that the forward-looking agenda of the Budget would provide support to country’s defence and security.
He said the Budget focused on accelerating economic growth and creating job opportunities to reverse the adverse impact of Covid-19 pandemic with ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ at the core.
Singh termed threat perceptions, aspirations, capacity and capability development initiatives and technological advancements as major factors that drive procurement decisions in defence. (Source: Google/https://www.thestatesman.com/)
23 Feb 21. Iraqi Government Examines In-Country Missile Attacks on U.S. Bases. The Iraqi government is investigating three attacks on U.S. bases in the country and is doing a careful and complete job, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said.
“We had a very good discussion with our Iraqi partners a couple of weeks ago, in the wake of the Irbil attacks,” Kirby told reporters today. “They made it very clear to the [secretary of defense] that they’re taking this seriously, and they want the chance to investigate it for themselves … we’re going to let them do that.”
The attack in Irbil killed a U.S. contractor and wounded a service member and others, while the attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone caused property damage. In addition, an attack at Balad Air Base wounded personnel.
Despite the suspicions about the source of the weapons used and who backed those responsible, Kirby said the attacks remain unrelated to any diplomatic activities that may be happening between the U.S. and Iran.
“This has nothing to do with … any diplomatic efforts that may or may not be happening,” he said. “It has to do with trying to make sure we judge accountability the right way. And that’s what the secretary wants to give our Iraqi partners the time and space to do.”
Despite that commitment, Kirby said the Defense Department is aware of the threat Iran continues to pose in the region.
“Nobody’s backing away from the significant security challenges that Iran still poses, … and we’ve not been bashful about that at all,” he said. “And nobody also is in a rush to judgment here on these particular attacks … historically, we have seen these attacks from Shia-backed militias on our facilities, our people, and those of the Iraqis, as well, being conducted with weaponry, rockets that have Iranian origin.”
Kirby said the department has concerns Iranians are using proxies in the Middle East to create insecurity and instability in the region. “Their malign activities in the region are a matter of record,” he said. “And nothing has changed about our desire to be able to address those malign activities in the appropriate way.” (Source: US DoD)
23 Feb 21. E3 foreign ministers’ statement on the JCPoA: 23 February 2021.
The governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom respond to Iran’s suspension of the Additional Protocol.
Statement from the governments of France, Germany and the UK:
We, the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, deeply regret that Iran has started, as of today, to suspend the Additional Protocol and the transparency measures under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). Iran’s actions are a further violation of its commitments under the JCPoA and significantly reduces safeguards oversight by the IAEA.
The E3 are united in underlining the dangerous nature of this decision. It will significantly constrain the IAEA’s access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information. It will also constrain the IAEA’s ability to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear programme and nuclear-related activities, as per its reporting mandate under United Nations Security Council resolution 2231.
We commend and fully support the Director General and the Secretariat for their continued efforts to implement the necessary verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear commitments under the JCPoA in the present context, as highlighted by the DG’s visit to Tehran on the 20 and 21st of February. We take note of the conclusion of a temporary bilateral understanding between the IAEA and Iran which preserves for up to three months the possibility of access to certain information.
We urge Iran to stop and reverse all measures that reduce transparency and to ensure full and timely cooperation with the IAEA. Our objective remains to preserve the JCPoA and to support ongoing diplomatic efforts for a negotiated solution allowing for the return of Iran and the U.S. to full compliance with their JCPoA commitments. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
23 Feb 21. India increases funds for domestic procurements. India’s defence budget for 2021-22 provides a large increase for procurements from local industry, senior officials from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in New Delhi have said.
Speaking in an MoD budget webinar on 22 February, Indian defence secretary Ajay Kumar said the new defence expenditure allocated about INR702bn (USD9.7bn) towards local defence acquisitions.
This allocation, he said, represents a year-on-year increase of 35%. Local procurements in 2020-21 received a budget of INR519 bn.
In the same online event, defence minister Rajnath Singh said India planned to spend a total of about USD130bn (or about INR9.4trn) on military modernisation over the next five years, including expanded funding for domestic procurements.
Expanding orders for Indian-made defence equipment is expected to include contracts to supply the Indian Air Force and Indian Army with HAL’s Light Combat Helicopter (pictured). (HAL)
This funding included, he said, a INR480bn contract awarded to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in February for 83 indigenously designed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF). Singh also confirmed that HAL is “likely” to win soon an order for its indigenously designed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).
Singh added that during 2021-22 the MoD had already sanctioned – through the issuance of ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ (AoN) approvals – defence procurements worth INR750bn. He said that 87% of this allocation (about INR652.5bn) was linked to the government’s continuing campaign to produce defence equipment locally.
Singh said in the webinar that India’s efforts to allocate more funding towards defence procurement will be supported by an intention to accelerate the time the MoD takes to approve contracts. (Source: Jane’s)
23 Feb 21. Iran/Iraq /Israel/Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates/Yemen – Recent reporting indicates Iraqi Iranian-backed militant groups retain capability & intent to conduct drone attacks.
International media outlet reporting has corroborated claims made by the Iraqi ‘Righteous Promise Brigades’ (Alwiya al-Waad al-Haq) – a previously little-known Iranian-backed militant group (IBMG) – that it conducted attacks against sites in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on 23 January using weaponised drones. At the time, the Saudi-led coalition stated it had shot down an “aerial target” over Riyadh on 23 January, reportedly using US-made MIM-104 Patriot conventional surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems; however, the coalition blamed the Yemeni Houthi rebels for the attack, though the Houthis subsequently denied their involvement. On 26 January, the Righteous Promise Brigades claimed to have conducted similar weaponised drone attacks against sites in Riyadh from Iraq. While the Saudi-led coalition has not commented on the 26 January reports, social and traditional media reporting indicates that a drone was shot down over Riyadh on that date. In the days following the claimed attacks, the Righteous Promise Brigades threatened additional strikes against targets in Saudi Arabia, as well as the UAE for their involvement in the Yemen conflict.
Iraqi IBMG possession of military-grade drones provided by Iran has been documented since at least 2014. Along these lines, IBMGs in recent years claimed to be operating drones over Iraq during air-supported security operations targeting the Islamic State. However, since 2019, IBMGs in Iraq have expanded their use of drones to conduct strikes outside of the country and to surveil US-led coalition forces within Iraqi territory:
– On 14 May 2019, an IBMG reportedly launched multiple military-grade weaponised drones from southern Iraq targeting two oil pumping stations west of Riyadh.
– On 14 September 2019, large-scale attacks targeted two major oil facilities in Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia involving 18 drones and seven cruise missiles. Despite the Houthi claim of responsibility for these strikes, they did not emanate from Yemen, and the US claims the attack was directed by Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces from southwest Iran. A leading US think tank has indicated that the drones used in the attack were launched from the Jurf al-Nasr area of Iraq’s Babil Province by IBMG forces under the direction of the IRGC, while the missiles were fired from a military base in southwest Iran.
– On 29 May 2020, an Iranian-made Samad-variant military-grade drone operated by IBMG forces went down in Iraq’s Diyala Province. The most capable variant, the Samad-3 drone, has an approximate range of 1,500km (930 miles).
– On 23 July 2020, a sophisticated weaponised drone belonging to IBMG forces was recovered in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Germany recently extended its AIC for Iraqi airspace, citing a potential risk to flights below FL260 in FIR Baghdad (ORBB) stemming from ongoing military operations and anti-aviation weaponry (Germany – AIC 18/20). In addition, EASA, along with the UK and French civil aviation authorities, has issued stringent guidance to operators in the past year regarding the persistent threat to flight operations within Iraq at altitudes primarily below FL320 (EASA CZIB-2017-04R6, NOTAM UK EGTT V0004/21 & AIC France A 23/20). Both the US and Canada issued NOTAMs during March stipulating aviation operators registered in their countries defer conducting flights within FIR Baghdad (ORBB) at all altitudes (CZYZ G0280/20, KICZ A0036/20).
The southwest provinces of Asir, Jizan and Najran are located within the Emergency Security Control of Air Traffic (ESCAT) area of Saudi Arabia, which is covered by a notice issued on 28 January and a publication issued by the civil aviation authority of the country (NOTAM OEJD W0336/20, W0120/21 & AIP SUP 02/21). EASA, Germany and France have issued notices to operators advising against conducting civil aviation flight activity within the southwest provinces of Saudi Arabia (EASA – CZIB-2018-01R6, Germany – AIC 18/20 & France – AIC A 23/20). The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) extended its notice on 16 February, warning that due to the ongoing conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, there exists the potential for Houthi “weapons” to affect civil aviation outside of Yemen (NOTAM OMAE A0404/21).
The German and UK civil aviation authorities mandate that flights be deferred to airports in Yemen and within the airspace over Yemeni territory, with the exception of ATS routes R401, UL425, UM551 and N315. US aviation operators are prohibited from conducting flights in Yemeni airspace, with the exception of over-water ATS routes M99 & UT702. France currently requests its operators not to enter the entirety of FIR Sanaa (OYSC), and EASA has an active conflict zone information bulletin in place for Yemen.
Both the Houthis and Iraqi IBMGs are assessed to be in possession of surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) capable out to approximately 1,200km (745 miles). International media outlet reporting from 13 January indicates that Iran has provided the Houthis with Shahed-136 military-grade weaponised drones with an approximate range of 2,000-2,200km (1,240-1,370 miles). Commercial satellite imagery indicates that the Houthis have deployed the Shahed-136 drones to Jawf Governorate in northwest Yemen. Acquisition of Shahed-136 drones from Yemen indicates that Houthis now have the capability to target all of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and even Israel. Iraq-based IBMGs are also assessed to have the capability to target sites in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE via both drones and SSMs.
In late December, a senior Israeli defence official claimed that Iran was developing weaponised military-grade drone and SSM programmes for its proxy forces in Yemen and Iraq in order to be able to target Israel. Subsequent traditional media reporting from early January indicated that Israel had deployed Patriot and Israeli-made Iron Dome conventional SAM systems to the Red Sea city of Eilat due to “threats of attack from Yemen and/or Iraq” via weaponised drones and/or SSMs. The Patriot has the capability to engage air targets at altitudes up to FL800 and at ranges out to 160 km (100 miles). Of note, suspected Israeli military airstrikes have reportedly taken place in Iraq on at least nine occasions since July 2019, targeting IBMG weapons storage facilities housing alleged SSM and drone shipments from Iran.
The acquisition of Shahed-136 drones surpasses the previous longest-range Houthi drone capability by 500-700km (310-435 miles) over the Iranian-made Samad-3. On 26 July 2018, the Houthis reportedly conducted a Samad-3 attack launched from northwest Yemen against Abu Dhabi International Airport (OMAA/AUH) in the UAE. This incident represents the longest-range Houthi drone attack ever recorded, at a distance of around 1,300km (c.800 miles). On 3 December 2017, the Houthis claimed to have launched a cruise missile from northwest Yemen, targeting a nuclear-related facility in the UAE. However, local media reporting indicated the missile failed shortly after launch and landed in an uninhabited desert area of Yemen’s Jawf Governorate.
During 2020, the US military deployed additional Patriot conventional SAM systems to locations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Gulf Region. Saudi Arabia has Patriot conventional SAM systems deployed to its southwest provinces along the Yemeni border and in main urban centres of the country. At various points since 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has deployed Patriot systems within Yemen for strategic air-defence coverage of western areas of Yemeni airspace. The UAE also maintains a deployedPatriot system capability deployed within its borders. Each military entity noted above also has combat aircraft capable well above FL260 deployed at operating locations in the Middle East region for air and air-defence purposes.
Continued SSM and additional drone launches by the Houthis, associated intercepts via Saudi military conventional SAM engagement, as well as fighter jet air-to-air weapon employment, are likely to occur several times monthly over both Yemen and the ESCAT area of Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future. In addition, quarterly SSM or drone attacks – by the Houthis and/or Iraq-based IBMGs – and associated intercepts near Riyadh or over main urban centres located deep within the Saudi interior are probable until a resolution between the factions in the Yemen conflict is reached. Attacks against targets in Israel or the UAE from Yemen by the Houthis or via Iraq-based IBMGs remain a credible outlier scenario and, while less likely to occur than the activity noted above, cannot be ruled out completely.
We assess territory in Saudi Arabia outside the ESCAT area to be a HIGH risk airspace environment at all altitudes. We assess Yemen and the ESCAT area of Saudi Arabia and the entirety of both Iraq and Iran to be EXTREME risk airspace environments at all altitudes. We assess the UAE to be a MODERATE risk airspace operating environment at all altitudes. We assess Gaza, along with areas inside Israel situated within 50km (32 miles) of Gaza and the Egyptian border, to comprise a HIGH risk airspace environment below FL260 and MODERATE risk airspace environment above FL260.
Approvals: As a precaution, conduct operational risk-based identification of divert and alternate airports for flight schedules with planned stops at aerodromes in the country or with overflight of the airspace. Operators are advised to ensure flight plans are correctly filed, attain proper special approvals for flight operations to sensitive locations and obtain relevant overflight permits prior to departure. In addition, ensure crews scheduled to operate to or over the country in the near term are fully aware of the latest security situation.
Missile Launches: Unannounced rocket and missile launches that transit airspace used by civilian aircraft pose a latent threat to operations at all altitudes. The country has a history of not issuing adequate notice of activities in its airspace that could affect flight safety. Multiple safety of flight concerns emanate from a situation where a missile malfunctions during the boost, mid-course or terminal phases of flight. Such an event would cause the missile to fly an unplanned trajectory and altitude profile which could expose overflying aircraft to mid-air collision, route diversion and or debris splashdown issues. Leading civil aviation governing bodies have standing notices advising operators of the threat to civil aviation in the airspace due to unannounced military activity, rocket test firings and or missile launches.
Drones: Operators are advised to review internal and external mechanisms for suspicious activity, safety and security reporting. Any revisions to processes should account for drone sightings as part of a wider aviation risk management strategy to protect aircraft, passengers and crew. Operators are advised to monitor government advisories as well as trends in terrorist tactics, such as the employment and proliferation of weaponised drones. In addition, we recommend aviation security managers to evaluate instances where drones were recovered in possession of terror suspects along with incidents where disrupted plots were to include drones for pre-attack reconnaissance and/or drone weaponisation. (Source: Osprey)
22 Feb 21. Saudi Arabia to stop contracting with firms without local headquarters. Saudi Arabia announced Feb. 15 that it plans to stop signing contracts with foreign companies that don’t have their Mideast headquarters in the kingdom, state-run media reported, a bold move that could escalate business competition in the region.
The decision, to take effect on Jan 1. 2024, aims to solicit foreign investment, increase efficiency of state spending and boost local employment, according to an anonymous official quoted by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. The rule applies to foreign companies that deal with government agencies, institutions and funds.
The step could put Saudi Arabia at odds with Dubai, considered the region’s commercial and tourism hub. The freewheeling city in the United Arab Emirates long has served as the headquarters for most big companies operating in the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
Amid the collapse of global oil prices, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has promoted efforts to overhaul the Saudi economy and liberalize its society in preparation for a future less dependent on oil.
During the government’s high-profile investment conference, the Future Investment Initiative, held last month, 24 foreign companies announced their intent to move their regional headquarters to the Saudi capital of Riyadh, the SPA report said, without offering specifics.
The decision “will not affect any investor’s ability to enter the Saudi market,” the report added, noting that further measures will emerge throughout the year.
The wealthy kingdom has historically relied on vast oil reserves and state spending to power the country and subsidize the lives of most Saudi citizens on the government payroll. But in recent years, Prince Mohammed has sought to revamp the economy by building up tourism, entertainment and even a futuristic city in the desert called “Neom” under a grand plan called Vision 2030. (Source: Defense News)
22 Feb 21. Aus, UK reaffirm commitment to building defence industry ties.
The nations have renewed their commitments to strengthening defence industry collaboration.
Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price has met with her UK counterpart, Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin, to discuss the nations’ shared commitment to building defence industrial base co-operation.
According to Minister Price, the pair discussed their respective governments’ approaches to building defence industry capability.
“Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan and the UK’s ongoing reviews of national defence policies highlight the importance of like-minded co-operation on shared defence industry challenges and opportunities,” Minister Price said.
“I spoke to Minister Quin with pride about how the Morrison government has supported Australian businesses within the defence sector throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The recently announced $1bn in economic recovery initiatives to support defence industry demonstrates the government’s flexible and quick response.”
Ministers Price and Quin also discussed the process of the nations’ respective defence programs, including Australia’s Bushmaster vehicle delivery, the UK’s MQ-9B Sky Guardian program, the opening of Australia’s new F-35 MRO facility, and Naval Shipbuilding programs working on the delivery of Type 26 and Hunter Class frigates.
“This is the largest defence acquisition Australia has undertaken in partnership with the UK,” Minister Price said.
“I reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to this program and reinforced the substantial opportunities for Australian industry.”
Minister Price also welcomed the recent signing of the memorandum of understanding by Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds and the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace.
The MoU reinforces both countries’ commitment to collaborating to build and deliver the next generation of frigates, and maximising mutual opportunities.
“We are both looking forward to further discussions and we hope to reconvene the Australia-UK Defence Industry Dialogue this year, which we will co-chair,” Minister Price concluded. (Source: Defence Connect)
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