US fighter jets escort Russian bombers over Baltic and Norwegian Seas

Boeing F-15C Eagle from 493rd Fighter Squadron.

Russia’s Tu-22M3 long-range bombers performed flights over the Baltic and Norwegian Seas on Wednesday and were escorted by US, Belgian, Finnish and Swedish fighter jets at some stages of the route, the Defense Ministry said.

“On September 20, 2017, crews of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers made scheduled flights over the neutral waters of the Baltic and Norwegian Seas. Training flights of crews of the Long-Range Aviation were performed in line with the plan for combat training events in summer 2017,” the ministry said.

Over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea at some stages of the flight route “a pair of aircraft of the Long-Range Aviation was escorted by fighter jets F-16 of the Belgian Air Force, F-18 of the Finnish Air Force, F-15 of the US Air Force and JAS-39 of the Swedish Air Force during 70 minutes.”

Russian Long Range Aviation Tuoplev Tu-22M3 Strategic Bombers

“While performing a flight over the neutral waters of the Norwegian Sea, another pair of Tu-22M3 was escorted by F-16 fighter jets of the US Air Force during 27 minutes at some stages of the route,” the ministry said.

The flights of Tu-22M3, a modification of the TU-22M “Backfire,” were made in strict compliance with the international rules of using airspace without violating the borders of other countries, the ministry stressed.

Pilots of Russia’s Long-Range Aviation regularly perform training flights over neutral waters of the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean, it said.


Russian warship sails through English Channel

Russia’s large amphibious assault ship Alexander Otrakovsky has finished sailing through the English Channel, Northern Fleet’s spokesman, Captain 1st Rank Vadim Serga said on Thursday.

“The Russian warship will continue sailing southwards as planned and its crew will be taking part in a number of exercises,” Serga said.

The Alexander Otrakovsky set off on its long voyage on September 12.

Its previous voyage in 2015-2016 lasted for 588 days to become the longest voyage in the modern history of the Northern Fleet.


Gripen Aggressor enters the fray in US red air competition

Saab Gripe Agressor

Saab is exploring the burgeoning red air market with its Gripen Aggressor, but the new adversary aircraft could face a tough competition against cheaper, former military jets.

Last week, Saab unveiled a new derivative of its Gripen C at the DSEI exhibition in London. The Aggressor is outfitted with simulation-based capability to fire air-to-air missiles and Saab’s PS-05 Mk IV radar and an air combat manoeuvring instrumentation pod.

This week, Saab officially announced its intent to target the US Air Force’s adversary air (ADAIR) contract, though private contractors appear lukewarm on the new platform.

“We’re looking at all options at this time and it’s a highly capable fighter,” says Sean Gustafson, vice-president of business development at Draken International, which has already captured the USAF’s interim red air contract for Nellis AFB, Nevada. Draken holds 100 aircraft in its private fleet, including Douglas A-4 Skyhawks acquired from New Zealand, Aerovodochody L-159s and 20 recently acquired Dassault Mirage F1s from Spain.

Draken’s competitor, Textron Airborne Solutions, acquired 63 French F1s this month but is considering the Gripen Aggressor to fulfill the USAF’s 150 aircraft requirement for the ADAIR contract. But while Textron believes the Gripen’s capabilities would suit any aggressor programme, acquiring the aircraft boils down to Saab’s pricing, says ATAC chief executive Jeffrey Parker.

“The issue is right now it’s a slightly different model because we’re talking new aircraft versus former military aircraft,” he says. “So above all ATAC and US industry have to be able to create value for the [Defense Department], and the way we do that right now is by using former military aircraft.”


No proof of bribery in Eurofighter deal: Austrian parliament report

Austrian Air Force (German: Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte) Eurofighter Typhoon 7L + WN

VIENNA (Reuters) – A parliamentary inquiry into Austria’s $2 billion Eurofighter deal found no indications of bribery or that Airbus (AIR.PA) and its partners illegally influenced Austrian politicians, according to the final report on the matter.

Lawmakers launched their inquiry in March to check whether politicians might have accepted bribes from the makers of Eurofighter to approve the deal.

Vienna prosecutors are pursuing a separate investigation into allegations of fraud against Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium BAES.l based on earlier complaints from the defense ministry, which is seeking up to 1.1 billion euros in compensation.

Airbus and the consortium, which includes Britain’s BAE Systems (BAES.L) and Italy’s Leonardo (LDOF.MI), rejected the accusations as politically motivated and, on Monday, threatened Austria’s defense minister with legal action.

Allegations that decision-makers pocketed money for their approval of the Eurofighter deal surfaced almost immediately after the original purchase was agreed in 2003.

Legislators investigated a settlement Austria reached with Eurofighter in 2007 to reduce the order to 15 jets from 18 as well as the volume of so-called offset deals meant to provide business for the local economy to 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) from 4 billion. MPs said they did not have enough time to clarify the circumstances of the initial order.

Airbus’s company logo is pictured at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse,

Former Defence Minister Norbert Darabos, a Social Democrat who negotiated the settlement with Eurofighter, was one of the politicians strongly criticized for allegedly having allowed Airbus to outwit him.

But the parliamentary report said no indications were found “that there would have been unacceptable influence on Darabos and his entourage in the context of the settlement negotiations”.

Airbus declined comment on the report.

It was not immediately clear if the report would have any impact on the separate criminal investigation.

“A parliamentary inquiry is no substitute for the prosecutor and not a criminal court, but it can deliver valuable hints for the prosecutor’s investigation,” said Karlheinz Kopf, who chaired the lawmakers’ inquiry.

While dismissing bribery allegations, the report also repeated a Defence Ministry complaint that the Alpine republic appeared to have been “deceived” regarding its partners’ ability to deliver certain jets as initially agreed.

It also highlighted findings from a decade ago that Airbus had provided millions of euros in sponsorship money in connection with the Eurofighter deal to a soccer club that is seen as close to Austria’s Social Democrats.

The parliamentary report further assessed that Darabos did not liaise sufficiently with other ministries and agencies while negotiating the settlement and was not transparent enough to allow a court audit of the deal.

The legislators wound up their investigation earlier than planned because Austria called snap elections for Oct. 15, a year ahead of schedule. Airbus has clashed with other European governments, notably Germany, before, but the row with Austria is unique in its fury.

The defense ministry said this week said it was open to an out-of-court settlement with Airbus and the consortium. But if no agreement were possible, it would also consider filing a lawsuit based on U.S. rules.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; editing by Mark Heinrich


As Russia threatens, Sweden ponders joining NATO

Vladimir Putin’s mock attacks on Scandinavia could make the Swedes end 200 years of neutrality

SWEDEN’S Aurora-17 drill, which continues until the end of September, is the biggest war game that the supposedly neutral country has carried out for 23 years. Not only does it involve 19,000 of Sweden’s armed forces (about half of them), including its Home Guard, but also more than 1,500 troops from Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Norway and America.

All except Finland are members of NATO, the big western alliance.

The size of the exercise and its main focus, the defence of Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea some 350km (220 miles) from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, is a reflection of how insecure Sweden feels.

Vladimir Putin, having gobbled up Crimea and attacked Ukraine, is flexing his muscles near the Baltics and Scandinavia. Russia’s massive Zapad-17 military exercise, which finished this week, involved sending 100,000 troops to Belarus and the Baltic to practise repelling the “Western Coalition”.

Foreign observers were banned, as they never are from NATO exercises. (Perhaps luckily: a Russian helicopter reportedly fired missiles at spectators by mistake, though the government denies this.)

There have been plenty of other causes for disquiet. In March 2013 Russia sent two Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers, escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters, across the Gulf of Finland to within 40km of Gotland.

Su-27UB , Su-27P and Tupolev Tu-22M3

The planes only veered off after carrying out what NATO analysts believed was a dummy nuclear attack on targets in Sweden. After many years of static or declining defence spending, Sweden had to rely on Danish F-16s, part of NATO’s Baltic air-policing operation, to respond.

In 2014 a Russian submarine penetrated the Stockholm archipelago, departing without being found. Since then Russia has stepped up the frequency of menacing, no-notice military drills in the region.

Small wonder many Swedes think they should end 200 years of neutrality by joining NATO. If they did, any Russian attack on Sweden would be treated as an attack on America and its 28 NATO allies.

All the main Swedish opposition parties want to join, apart from the ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats, who like many European populists have a curious fondness for Mr Putin.

Polls suggest that a plurality of Swedes favour NATO membership. A Pew survey earlier this year found 47% in support of membership and 39% against.

But for now the Social Democratic-Green coalition government, in office since 2014, wants to get as close as possible to NATO without actually joining it.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, is the author of a policy that tries to square the contradictions in the country’s security policy.

Part of the “Hultqvist doctrine”, as it is known, is to improve Sweden’s neglected capacity for self-defence. Military spending is rising—by about 5% annually in real terms over the next three years—and conscription is being reintroduced next year.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister

The other part is building closer defence co-operation with its non-NATO neighbour, Finland, as well as with America and Baltic littoral states in NATO. All of which Aurora-17 is meant to demonstrate.

Both Sweden and Finland also entered into a “host country support agreement” with NATO, which allows alliance forces to move through their territory and pre-position kit by invitation.

Mr Hultqvist himself is suspected of hankering after NATO membership. But for now the government has ruled it out. There is still a good deal of anti-Americanism on the Swedish left (which Donald Trump does little to dispel).

There is also a fear, expressed by the foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, of provoking Mr Putin (who has promised to “eliminate the threat” were Sweden to join NATO). Many observers doubt that Finland, where popular support for NATO is lower, would be ready to make a joint decision in favour of membership—something Swedish NATO boosters see as crucial.

There are good reasons why NATO itself might be keen for Sweden (and Finland) to join its fold. Defence of its Baltic members would be much harder without guaranteed access to Swedish ground and airspace. As a member, Sweden would be far more integrated with NATO’s command-and-control systems. Interoperability of its forces with those of the alliance would improve, making them more effective in a fight.

Sweden’s NATO question is being fudged for now, but it will loom large in next year’s general election. If the Swedes do eventually make the jump, Mr Putin will have only himself to blame.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “A funny kind of neutrality”


Large-scale multinational Dragon-2017 military exercises begin in Poland

The large-scale Dragon-17 military exercises, in which more than 17 thousand servicemen from Poland, NATO countries, and other countries are taking part, began in Poland, Radio Poland reported.

According to the Deputy Minister of Defense of Poland Michael Dvorchik, the purpose of the exercises is to work on joint actions of Polish and foreign troops in a threatening situation.

“The scenario assumes that a neighboring country intends to gain access to resources in the territory of our country. An attempt is made to destabilize the political situation and disrupt the work of state administrative bodies and local authorities. An attempt to seize the territory is undertaken through hybrid actions,” he said.

Dvorchik noted that, although this is a hypothetical scenario, it is based on situations that have been observed recently.

“We are talking, for example, about the situation in Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea,” he said.


Italian radar element supports NATO deployable air surveillance unit

The Italian TPS-77 radar at its deployed site at Liepaja right on the shores of the Latvian Baltic Sea coast. Photo by Kevin Lemée

LIEPAJA, Latvia – An Italian Air Force TPS-77 radar element has been the sensor for NATO’s deployed air surveillance and control unit – the DARS* – supporting the integration into Latvia’s Air Defence System and NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS).

Since late-August, exercise Ramstein Dust-II 17 has been taking place in Latvia. During the deployment exercise, elements of NATO’s Deployable Air Command and Control Centre moved to Lielvarde Air Base to test their expeditionary capabilities and practice their core functionalities such as providing area air surveillance, production and dissemination of the recognised air picture and tactical control of training air missions.

A key sensor that allows the unit to operate is the Italian Air Force TPS-77 radar deployed to Liepaja right on the Baltic Sea coast approximately 270 kilometres west of Lielvarde. The 20-strong Italian element set up their camp in Latvia to prepare and integrate into the exercise feeding radar data into the DARS system.

Patriot System 2 – part of NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence System

Creation of recognised air pictures starts with a radar element such as the Italian TPS-77. The data of all aircraft within its coverage area are fed into NATINAMDS.

At the deployed DARS this data is fused and transmitted to the Baltic Control and Reporting Centre at Karmelava, Lithuania, which in turn sends its consolidated data to NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem, Germany.

At Allied Air Command at Ramstein, Germany, the overall NATO recognised air picture for all of Europe is maintained together with the input from the southern CAOC at Torrejon, Spain.

An F-15C of the 493d Fighter Squadron (493 FS), nicknamed “The Grim Reapers”, scrambles to intercept at RAF Lakenheath. The Squadron is presently on Baltic Air Policing duties in Siauliai, Lithuania and represents a key element in NATO’S Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS).

When it redeploys to its home garrison more than 2,500 kilometres away at the beginning of October, the Italian radar element will have been part of NATO’s 24/7 mission of safeguarding the skies over Allies territories.


Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez, 173rd U.S. Airborne Brigade, Reoprts on life as part of NATO’s Battle Group

U.S. soldiers with the 173rd Infantry Brigade observe the training area during live-fire training in Pabrade, Lithuania, Sept. 20, 2017. MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

PABRADE, Lithuania — At a camp nestled in Lithuania’s remote, rainy forests, Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez and his platoon of artillerymen settled into a cycle: maintain the howitzers, work out and chow down on palate-pleasing international field rations as they wait for the order to fire.

Martinez and his platoon are among 500 173rd Airborne Brigade soldiers that swooped into the Baltics this month on a mission to deter Russian aggression.

They have joined war games with local troops and new NATO battle groups deployed to the broader region — a buildup that collectively represents the alliance’s largest reinforcement of its eastern flank since the end of the Cold War.

A U.S. soldier with the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) fires an M4 carbine from atop a Humvee during live-fire training in Pabrade, Lithuania, Sept. 20. MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

“The hours are long, but the morale is high,” Martinez said from inside a camouflaged artillery enclosure within the mossy woods.
“We keep ourselves busy each day, taking care of our area and doing what we have to do. But then we get the order to fire, and we’ve been firing a lot. We’re loving it.”

The 173rd’s 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment is leading the U.S. effort in Bayonet Shield, which will culminate in the weeks ahead with a massive international live-fire drill.

U.S. Army soldiers with the 173rd Infantry Brigade provide cover during Exercise Bayonet Shield in Adazi, Latvia, Sept. 19, 2017. MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

In places like Pabrade, the brigade’s soldiers are working side-by-side with international forces as they train with high-powered weaponry. The crackle of .50-caliber shots repeatedly echoes from the target range into the woods where soldiers take shelter in tents.

In between the drills, one of the rewards for the soldiers in the Baltics is a break from American MRE monotony.
In Latvia, soldiers get traditional kebabs and meat dishes, while those camped out in Lithuania’s forests receive Canadian MREs, complete with a longer-lasting version of poutine, the Quebec specialty of mushy fries bathed in gravy and cheese.

Members of a multinational NATO battalion handle much of the cooking and have had the most interaction with U.S. troops.

Soldiers have relished the chance to mingle with their counterparts.

U.S. Army UH-60 helicopters land to transport U.S. and Slovenian soldiers during Exercise Bayonet Shield in Adazi, Latvia, Sept. 19, 2017. MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

“We’re working with people from all over the world. We’re sleeping on mattresses. We have tents over our heads and we have controlled heating,” said Capt. Thomas Huens, 1-91 Headquarters troop commander. “Life’s about as good as it can get in the Army.”

For Army senior leaders, placing paratroopers in the Baltics was part of a plan to bolster allied presence in the region as Russia conducted its own large-scale war games just across the dividing line between Russia and NATO turf.

But for most of the soldiers on the ground, the geopolitics are an afterthought as they go about their daily tasks.
“Some days our guys are starting training at (9 a.m.), and working until (2 a.m.) the next morning.

They don’t have time to focus on anything else,” said Lt. Col. Hugh Jones, commander of the 173rd’s 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne). “We’re focusing on training and doing what we do. We are making the absolute most of our time here.”


Belarusian president comments on military cooperation with Russia

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. AP Photo/Sergei Grits

Military cooperation between Belarus and Russia is in the two countries’ national interests and is not aimed against anyone, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said while reviewing the troops that took part in the Zapad-2017 joint drills at the Borisovsky training range.

“We maintain the necessary defense capabilities and take joint measures to counter military threats to Belarus and Russia, as well as to improve the capabilities of the regional forces,” the Belarusian leader said.

At the same time, Lukashenko stressed that “joint military activities and cooperation with Russia in conducting drills are not aimed against any country and only serve defense purposes.” He also pointed out that by boosting military cooperation, Belarus and Russia did not threaten anyone. “We have never threatened anyone and we have no intention to do that,” Lukashenko said.

“Threats and wars never came from our land, but those who invaded this land were always repelled. This is the idea behind our drills. There is no other idea and should not be,” the Belarusian president noted.

On Wednesday, the Zapad-2017 joint Russian-Belarusian military drills, which kicked off on September 14, concluded at the Borisovsky training range in Belarus.

The exercises, held at six training ranges in Belarus and three training ranges in Russia, involved up to 12,700 troops (with 10,200 troops in Belarus), around 70 aircraft, up to 680 pieces of military equipment, including 250 tanks, up to 200 guns, mortars and multiple-launch rocket systems, as well as ten vessels.

Observers from seven countries, including NATO member states, monitored the drills.




RCAF to help restore Lancaster bomber in preparation for its 100th anniversary

Lancaster bomber KB882

Ownership of Lancaster bomber KB882 was transferred Wednesday from the City of Edmundston to the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ont. Now the Royal Canadian Air Force will begin dismantling the plane and prepare it for transportation to the museum.

KB882 symbolizes the more than 50,000 Canadians who served in Bomber Command during the Second World War and the nearly 10,000 who lost their lives, according to the RCAF.

In addition, the aircraft represents the roles that were also conducted by Lancasters during the postwar period; those include contribution to the RCAF’s Arctic patrol activities and aerial photographic work as Canada charted its wilderness.

“Lancaster KB882 tangibly represents the RCAF’s transition from war to peacetime activities,” Lieutenant-General Mike Hood, Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force, said in a statement.As the RCAF looks towards its 100th anniversary in 2024, Lancaster KB882 will serve as a valuable anchor for our commemorative activities, and a beacon for the preservation of RCAF and Canadian history and heritage.”

A combined team from the RCAF’s Aerospace and Telecommunications Engineering Support Squadron (ATESS) and the National Air Force Museum of Canada are now dismantling KB882.

The work is expected to take three to four weeks, and it is anticipated that the RCAF will transport KB882 to Trenton by the end of October, according to the RCAF. This will be the third time that KB882 will be worked on by ATESS (and its predecessor 6 Repair Depot). The aircraft passed through their hands in 1954 and 1964.

When the aircraft arrives in Trenton, it will be restored to her post-war Mark 10 AR (area reconnaissance) configuration with the aid of donations and volunteer efforts. Restoration is expected to take five to seven years.

When KB882 is on display for public viewing, the National Air Force Museum of Canada will be the only museum in the world to have in its collection a fully restored Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster, the RCAF noted.

Built by Victory Aircraft Ltd. in Malton, Ont., KB882 flew several combat missions over Europe before returning to Canada in 1945. In 1952, the aircraft underwent a major overhaul and conversion to area reconnaissance. Assigned to the photo-reconnaissance role with 408 Squadron at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, in Ottawa, in 1953, KB882 proved instrumental in the mapping and charting of Canada’s Arctic.

The aircraft was also used as an electronic and photographic intelligence gathering platform during the Cold War.

Shortly after retirement in 1964, KB882 was sold to the City of Edmundston where it has been displayed at the Edmundston Airport.


Estonian Observer Reports that the Russian-Belarus 2017 Drills Appear to have conformed to the OSCE Vienna document Guidelines

MINSK REGION, BELARUS. A helicopter insertion during Zapad 2017, joint Russian and Belarusian military exercises, at Borisovsky range. Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/TASS

TALLINN, Sep 20, BNS – Representatives of seven countries invited to observe the Zapad large-scale Russia-Belarus joint military exercise in Belarus under the Vienna document were shown action of defensive nature and also the number of personnel that they saw was smaller than the declared maximum numbers, an Estonian observer who was present at the exercise said.

“What we saw was basically of defensive nature by all means,” the observer, Lt. Col. Kaupo Kiis, told BNS on Wednesday. He said that the joint Russia-Belarus exercise, just like the military exercises held in Estonia, started with an imitated invasion by an enemy, which was then halted and the enemy eventually driven out of the country.
On the first day operations of the air force took place, on the second day it was action by the ground forces and on the third day an air defense operation took place. On the last day, Wednesday, a large-scale operation took place that was watched also by the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, foreign defense attaches and representatives of NATO, the UN, the Red Cross and the OSCE.

Kiis said that the number of personnel seen by the observers was smaller than what Belarus had declared.
“The kind of number of people that was declared by the different sides we never saw. There may have been more, because Belarus is big, but I guess that I didn’t see 5,000 on different days combined,” the officer said.

Moscow and Minsk have said that 12,700 personnel were to take part in Zapad, including about 7,200 from Belarus and about 5,500 from Russia. Of the Russian personnel up to 3,000 were to take part in the exercise in Belarus. Representatives of NATO meanwhile have questioned these numbers as too small.

Kiis pointed out that the exercise was held in two stages, of which the observers invited under the OSCE Vienna document saw the second stage. “We don’t know what happened in the first stage because Russian soldiers were given honors after the end of the first stage,” he said.

Kiis said that the actions of offensive nature spoken about in international media may have taken place in the first stage, but since he did not see it, he can not confirm of deny this

“This is all that was shown to us, that was spoken to us. I can speak about these things,” he said.
The active phase of the exercise lasted from Sept. 14 through 20.

“And one more thing — we could not speak to conscripts, regardless of our repeated requests, to ask about their opinion. We could speak though to senior officers of various ranks on both the Russian and the Belarusian side,” the Estonian observer said.

The Estonian officer was an observer at Zapad alongside officers from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Sweden and Norway. Each of the countries sent two observers.