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Saithan

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RAF E-3D AWACS supports UK carrier strike group in Mediterranean​

by Tim Ripley



Two Royal Air Force (RAF) E-3D Sentry airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft have deployed to the Mediterranean to support UK-led Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) operations and exercises in the region.

Two RAF E-3Ds have deployed to the Mediterranean to support CSG21. (Janes/Paul Tompkins)

Two RAF E-3Ds have deployed to the Mediterranean to support CSG21. (Janes/Paul Tompkins)
The unannounced participation of the E-3Ds in the Mediterranean phase of the CSG21 deployment emerged after the aircraft's ADS-B transponder was tracked on an open source website during its missions from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

An E-3D was first tracked on 30 May operating east of Gibraltar after HMS Queen Elizabeth and CSG21 entered the Mediterranean. From 7 June onwards, the two E-3Ds have been flying over the eastern Mediterranean. On 20 June RAF and US Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters launched from Queen Elizabeth and flew their first missions over Syria and Iraq. According to the tracking data, an E-3D was airborne to support this mission.

A senior UK defence source told Janes on 25 June that the E-3Ds were the operational command of the carrier strike group and it was likely they would be redeployed to the Mideast and Far East to support later stages of the CSG21 cruise to Japan and South Korea.

On 25 June an RAF spokesman confirmed the deployment of the aircraft to Janes , “RAF intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets, including the E-3D, are supporting the CSG21 deployment and associated operational flights. Operational command of supporting assets will depend on location and mission.”

 

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TURKISH AIR FORCE JOINS NATO ENHANCED AIR POLICING IN POLAND​

RAMSTEIN, Germany - Four Turkish Air Force F-16s from 6th Main Jet Base at Bandırma touched down at Malbork Air Base in Poland on Tuesday.

An 80-strong Turkish Air Force detachment operates the fighters from Malbork until mid-September in support of NATO's Air Policing mission in the region. This is the second time, the Turkish Air Force contributes fighter jets to NATO Air Policing in the region, and the first deployment to Malbork, Poland.,,

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A Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet in final approach to Malbork Air Base, Poland. Four F-16s will be supporting NATO's enhanced Air Policing mission in the Baltic region until mid-September. Photo by 22nd Air Base Malbork.

This third Air Policing detachment in the region – in addition to the Spanish Air Force at Šiauliai, Lithunia, and the Italian Air Force at Ämari, Estonia – is an uptake of additional aircraft offers made by the Allies. The deployment of another additional fighter detachment to Malbork, POL, takes place under the auspices of the existing NATO enhanced Air Policing posture introduced in 2014. The deployment underlines the solidarity and cohesion among NATO Allies and the collective commitment to deterrence and defence.

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Turkish Air Force personnel and equipment was airlifted into Malbork Air Base, Poland, with a C-130 aircraft. The F-16 fighter detachment will work with the Polish Air Force and the deployed Allied air forces in the region. Photo by 22nd Air Base Malbork.

Sixty years after introducing the enduring NATO Air Policing mission, deployments like that of the Turkish F-16s to Malbork show our readiness and responsiveness and NATO's continuing air agility, capability and adaptation.

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For some ten weeks, Malbork Air Base, Poland, will be the home base for four Turkish Air Force F-16 fighters and facilitate Allied cooperation and interoperability reassuring NATO Allies on the eastern border of NATO. Photo by 22nd Air Base Malbork.

Three Allies from the south – Spain, Italy and Turkey – are supporting NATO's Baltic Air Policing in the north demonstrating Alliance cohesion and solidarity. Deployed in the Baltic region, they will work with each other and the hosting air forces to enhance cooperation and interoperability.

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office

 

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hm... showing solidarity with NATO allies is important, but it's also important not to be tricked into provocation.

Fighter jets from the United States and Turkey are taking up NATO Air Policing duties this week, guarding the skies over Iceland and over the Baltic region.

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“We thank our Allies the United States and Turkey for contributing to NATO’s Air Policing missions”, said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu. “Air Policing helps keep our skies safe and secure round the clock. This is a clear example of Alliance solidarity in action, demonstrating that NATO has the capabilities and the resolve to protect all Allies," she said.

On Wednesday (7 July 2021) four US F-15 landed at Keflavik airbase to conduct Air Policing over Iceland. Once certified by NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, the US jets are on standby to scramble at moment’s notice to keep Iceland’s airspace safe. On Tuesday (6 July 2021), four Turkish F-16 arrived at Malbork air base in Poland to work with the Polish air force in securing the skies in the region. The Turkish jets and their 80 support personnel will remain until mid-September.
Across Europe, NATO fighter jets are on duty around the clock, ready to scramble in case of suspicious or unannounced flights near the airspace of NATO Allies. This includes Air Policing missions in which fighter detachments rotate in and out of allied countries to help safeguard their skies. NATO scrambled its air forces across Europe more than 400 times in 2020 to intercept unknown aircraft - mostly from Russia - approaching NATO airspace.
 

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Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 completes mine hunting exercise​


According to a press release published by NATO on July 27, 2021, Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) conducted Operation Bottom Search German waters near Eckernförde from 19-23 July 2021. The Operation was officially known as Marinekommando Unterabteilung Geoinformation Dezernat Maritime Geo-Unterstützung (MWDC).


Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001
FGS Elbe (Germany) and mine countermeasures vessels FGS Homburg (Germany) and LVNS Talivaldis (Latvia). (Picture source: Deutsche Marine)



The objective of the operation was to reduce risk posed by sea mines to maritime communities and traffic of the Baltic Sea, and provide enhanced training in mine countermeasures operations to SNMCMG1 participating units.

Following the first and second World Wars several ammunition dumping areas were established in the area. Over time, ordnance drifted from the original sites or became naturally buried in sand and mud. To this day, the presence of historical sea mines and other explosive remnants of war poses a threat to maritime traffic in the Baltic Sea.

Cumulatively SNMCMG1 performed 141 hours of bottom search operations and covered an area of ten square nautical miles. During the operation, the group located and identified one 1940s artillery shell and two sea mines, confirming that a significant amount of military munitions remain present in this area of the Baltic Sea from the two World Wars. While mapping the ocean bottom SNMCMG1 also located and mapped two shipwrecks that were unable to be identified due to their deteriorated conditions.

To locate the maximum amount of objects, SNMCMG1 units use hull-mounted or side scan sonar equipment to detect objects on the sea bed. The objects are then further identified by divers or remotely operated underwater vehicles.

SNMCMG1 provided all collected data of the area to the German Mine Warfare Data Center (MWDC) to facilitate their efforts to map the sea bed in order to ensure the safety of navigation within German territorial waters. All historical ordnance search activities were executed in close coordination and consent of the German authorities.

During the operation, SNMCMG1 consisted of the flagship FGS Elbe (Germany) and mine countermeasures vessels FGS Homburg (Germany) and LVNS Talivaldis (Latvia).

The Tripartite class is a class of minehunters developed from an agreement between the navies of Belgium, France and the Netherlands. A total of 35 ships were constructed for the three navies. The class was constructed in the 1980s–1990s in all three countries, using a mix of minehunting, electrical and propulsion systems from the three-member nations.

In 2007, the Latvian Naval Forces acquired five ships (including LVNS Talivaldis) from the Netherlands which had been taken out of service at the beginning of the decade.

In the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Tripartites are known as the Alkmaar class. The Alkmaars were originally of similar design to the Belgian and French versions, with a standard displacement of 520 tonnes (510 long tons) and 553 tonnes (544 long tons) at full load. The displacement later increased to 571 tonnes (562 long tons) standard and 605 tonnes (595 long tons) at full load and then 630 tonnes (620 long tons) standard and 660 tonnes (650 long tons) at full load.

The 20 mm gun that was initially mounted was removed, leaving only three 12.7 mm machine guns. Beginning in 2003, the remaining Dutch Alkmaar-class minehunters were upgraded with improved electronics, including Atlas Elektronik INCMS combat data system, Thales 2022 Mk III hull-mounted sonar, Atlas Seafox Mine Identification and Disposal System and a Double Eagle Mk III Mod 1 ROV.

 

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Should NATO Open Its Doors to Georgia?​


Conflict with Russia has been an ever-present threat in the three decades since Georgia broke away from the collapsing Soviet Union.​


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Reason's December special issue marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This story is part of our exploration of the global legacy of that evil empire, and our effort to be certain that the dire consequences of communism are not forgotten.


Central to many of the thorny geopolitical issues that have surrounded Georgia since it gained independence three decades ago is what happened at NATO's 2008 summit in Romania.


President George W. Bush, attending his final NATO summit before leaving office, arrived in Bucharest intent on nudging his fellow leaders toward accepting Georgia into the fold. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia had pursued closer ties with Europe and the U.S. It was a key American ally during the early years of Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, contributing hundreds of troops to the effort and allowing the U.S. to use its airstrips. Why not make the relationship official?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy led the opposition. Inviting Georgia to join NATO or even suggesting that it was the alliance's long-term plan to do so, they warned, would needlessly spur Russian aggression. And Georgia's location—next to Russia, in the Caucasus, outside the existing NATO borders—created a major vulnerability for the rest of the alliance, with little to be gained from the addition.


Bush won the argument in Bucharest. But it didn't take long for Merkel and Sarkozy to be proven right.


Just hours after NATO published the Bucharest Summit Declaration, a statement that included vague language supporting Georgia's (and Ukraine's) eventual membership, the Russian government announced plans to provide military support to pro-Russia militias in Georgia.

Four months later, Russian tanks rolled across the border in response to a Georgian offensive against those now-emboldened militias. The war ended in less than two weeks. But it left 20,000 Georgians displaced from their homes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway provinces with large populations of ethnic Russians. More than a decade later, those two provinces remain under de facto Russian control, even though the Georgian government still claims them.


Now the Biden administration is once again suggesting that Georgia could join NATO—with a few important caveats.


Asked about the status of the former Soviet state during his confirmation hearing in January, Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the door decidedly ajar. "If a country like Georgia is able to meet the requirements of membership and if it can contribute to our collective security," he said, then NATO should not foreclose the possibility.


"If you are successful," interjected Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.), "then we will be at war with Russia now."

Conflict with Russia has been an ever-present threat in the three decades since Georgia broke away from the collapsing Soviet Union. For that reason, the Georgian government has long sought ties with the European Union (E.U.) and NATO—and recent surveys show that a majority of the Georgian people favor closer economic and military integration with both entities. Georgia has a free trade agreement with the E.U., which is its top trading partner, and Georgian passport holders have been allowed visa-free travel into Europe since 2017.

But even as European institutions have opened to Georgia economically, European leaders remain wary of officially extending a military alliance to the eastern edge of the Black Sea. "I don't see Georgia becoming a NATO member anytime soon," Merkel said during a diplomatic trip to Tbilisi in 2018.


It's not that NATO is opposed to expansion. Indeed, 14 new states have been added as full members since the end of the Cold War. That includes former parts of the Soviet Union—the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—and former East bloc countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Romania.


Proponents of bringing Georgia into NATO argue that the U.S. has already pledged to support Georgia's national security in other ways. Indeed, the U.S. signed the Charter on Strategic Partnership with Georgia in 2009 and has provided more than $200 million of military assistance to Georgia since 2010, including the sale of 400 anti-tank missiles in 2017, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Keeping Georgia in a semi-permanent state of "ambiguous limbo" only "reinforces the Russian narrative that the West does not want Georgia, thus advancing Moscow's goals of discrediting liberal Euro-Atlantic values and establishing special zones of influence," wrote Amanda Paul and Ana Andguladze, researchers at the European Policy Centre, in a briefing published in 2018 that argued for Georgia's admission as a full NATO member.


There may even be security gains to be had. At the January hearing where Paul claimed that extending NATO membership to Georgia would be a "provocative" move tantamount to triggering hostilities with Russia, Blinken pushed back. "I think just the opposite," he said. "I think we have seen that countries that join NATO have not been the same target of Russian aggression."


This is the chicken-or-egg problem at the center of NATO expansion in the post-Soviet era. Russia has been more aggressive toward Georgia and Ukraine than it has been toward, for example, the Baltic states with which Russia also shares a border. Is NATO membership a deterrent to Russian aggression? Or is Russian aggression toward Ukraine and Georgia a natural response to NATO's admission of the Baltic states, and an attempt to prevent what Russia sees as the alliance further encroaching on its borders?

Still, there are legitimate questions that should be asked about what NATO gains by continuing to expand. Full members of the alliance are committed to collective defense: An attack against one is regarded as an attack against all. The goal is geopolitical stability, but the leaders of France and Germany are probably right to question whether committing to defend Georgia is worth the risk, and whether it improves their own citizens' security in any way.


"Extending a security commitment to…Georgia would extend NATO requirements beyond any degree of realism," Henrik Larsen, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies, wrote in a June op-ed for the foreign policy blog War on the Rocks.


The inability to make serious security commitments to Georgia (and Ukraine) leaves NATO in a bind. Rescinding the Bucharest Summit Declaration would be a strategic retreat that would acknowledge de facto Russian influence over countries that are otherwise aligned with Europe and the United States. But moving forward with the promises made in 2008 would "expose enlargement as a gigantic bluff that would kill NATO's credibility as a defense alliance in any theater," Larsen wrote.

Georgia has for years existed in a sort of gray zone within the former Soviet realm—with a government that is firmly anti-Russian but cursed by geography to remain tethered in Russia's orbit. It seems likely to remain stuck there, as the Biden administration's approach to the situation is probably more nuanced than the January exchange between Paul and Blinken would make it appear.


For one thing, Georgia cannot currently meet "the requirements of membership," as Blinken put it, because NATO views ongoing territorial disputes as a major impediment to granting membership. Unless Georgia or Russia is willing to drop its claims to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia probably isn't getting into NATO.


That brings us full circle to the events of 2008. Knowing that NATO was considering offering membership to Georgia, and knowing that membership is withheld from states with territorial disputes, Russia's efforts to stoke a conflict on the border with Georgia can be seen more clearly. (It might very well have been a strategy that worked so well, Russia duplicated it in Ukraine in 2014.)


For an alliance like NATO to work, of course, concerns about Russia's response to strategic moves cannot be a trump card. Sometimes you simply have to do things your geopolitical adversary doesn't like.

But the benefits must outweigh the costs. If the price of backing Georgia's membership in NATO is stressing American relationships in Europe and heightening the risk of war with a nuclear-armed opponent, the Biden administration should be in no rush to change the—admittedly imperfect and awkward—status quo.

 

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NATO mulls new battlegroups in Eastern Europe to deter Russia​


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NATO told its military commanders to draw up plans for new battlegroups in central, eastern, and southeastern Europe, as it accused Russia of sending more troops near its border with Ukraine.

On Wednesday, NATO Defence Ministers met to address Russia’s continued military build-up in and around Ukraine.


“Ministers decided to develop options for further strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence.


Including to consider establishing new NATO battlegroups in central and eastern, south-eastern Europe,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a press conference after the meeting.


“Our military commanders will now work on the details and report back within weeks,” he added.

He called Russia’s military actions and demands to NATO not to expand to the east “the new normal”, which demonstrates Moscow’s willingness “to contest the fundamental principles of our security”.

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NATO troops in Lithuania. / AP

Stoltenberg also challenged Russia’s announcements on Tuesday and Wednesday that it was returning some of its troops to the bases.


“So far, we do not see any signs of de-escalation on the ground. No withdrawals of troops or equipment,” the NATO secretary-general said.


In his words, NATO implemented “the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence by establishing the battlegroups in the Baltic countries” after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.


In 2017, NATO deployed four multinational battalions with some 5,000 troops in total in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, led by the United States, Germany, Canada, and Britain.

Diplomats say four new battlegroups, comprising a total of around 4,000 troops could be based in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia.

 

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Stoltenberg: NATO will have to support BiH and Georgia​


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ministers held an emergency meeting in Brussels on Friday to discuss the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.


This meeting was joined by the Foreign Ministers of Finland and Sweden and the High Representative of the European Union (EU). Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba addressed his colleagues with a video message, in which he described the deteriorating humanitarian situation in his country.


The ministers condemned Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and expressed solidarity and support for the courage of the Ukrainian people and armed forces, a NATO statement stated.


In addition to the thousands of troops already sent by the Allies to the eastern part of the Alliance, NATO is deploying its response forces for the first time, with over 130 high-alert aircraft and over 200 ships from the far north to the Mediterranean.


”We will continue to do what is necessary to protect and defend every inch of NATO territory,” said Secretary-General Stoltenberg.


The foreign ministers also discussed the need to support partners who could be at risk of moving war from Ukraine, including Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).


”NATO does not want a war with Russia. The Kremlin’s ambition is to re-establish its sphere of interest and deny other countries the right to choose their own path. Therefore, NATO must support Georgia and BiH, countries that are at risk. This war has established a new normal for our security. We must avoid conflict in the years to come. There is a lot at stake. Whether democracy or an authoritarian regime will prevail is also a question of what kind of world we want to live in,” said the NATO Secretary-General.

”We are not part of this conflict,” Stoltenberg said, adding, however, that NATO has a “responsibility to ensure that it does not escalate or spread beyond Ukraine. That would be even more devastating and dangerous.”


The meeting was an opportunity for ministers to address the long-term implications of Russia’s aggression on Euro-Atlantic security.


The Secretary-General reiterated that “Russia’s aggression has created a new reality for our security, where basic principles are challenged through the use of force.”


In this new reality, ministers agreed that NATO’s relations with Russia have changed fundamentally and in the long run, but remain committed to keeping diplomatic channels open to avoid any unintentional escalation, misunderstanding, or misjudgment.

 

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NATO Awards Contracts for AWACS Replacement Studies​


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NATO's E-3s will be over 50 years old at the time of their planned retirement. They are powered by the aging TF33 low-bypass ratio turbofan, as are the E-3Gs of the U.S. Air Force, which are due to be replaced in the coming years. (Photo: NATO)

The NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) has awarded three contracts—each for €15.5 million ($17.1 million)—for Risk Reduction and Feasibility Studies (RRFS) associated with the Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC) program. The aims of this effort are to examine ways in which the organization can conduct surveillance and control following the planned retirement of the current Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) fleet around 2035.


The recipients of the RRFS contracts are two consortia and a single company. The ABILITI consortium is led by Boeing, with Indra (Spain), Leonardo (Italy), Thales (France), ESG and Lufthansa Technik (Germany), and Mott MacDonald (UK). Meanwhile, Airbus and Northrop Grumman lead the ASPAARO (Atlantic Strategic Partnership for Advanced All-domain Resilient Operations) team, which includes BAE Systems (UK), Lockheed Martin and IBM (USA), Kongsberg (Norway), GMV Aerospace (Spain), and Exence (Poland). The third contract has been awarded to General Atomics. While it is not leading a formal consortium, the company is working with ViaSat, Leidos, Saab Sensis and Raytheon from the USA, along with Rohde und Schwarz (Germany), Sener Aerospatiale (Spain), and Leonardo (UK).

NATO launched the AFSC program in 2016, and the concept stage was initiated in February 2017. Following initial high-level concept studies, the RRFS stage was launched in July 2021, with 65 companies nominated in the bidding. Seven proposals were received in November, of which the three most promising have been awarded RRFS contracts.


Under the contracts, the three bidders will develop a technical concept and assess its feasibility and implementation risks, as well as provide estimates for life-cost and analysis of intellectual property rights. AFSC is expected to employ a system-of-systems approach, potentially combining air, ground, maritime and space assets. The graphic accompanying the ASPAARO bid, for example, depicts a radar-equipped Airbus A330 tanker as part of a wider multi-domain network that includes satellites.



The first of 18 E-3A AWACS aircraft—based on the 707 airframe—entered service with the E-3A Component of the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force (NAEWF) in 1982, with 14 aircraft remaining in service. The aircraft are registered in Luxembourg and operate from the main base at Geilenkirchen in Germany and forward operating locations in Greece (Preveza), Italy (Trapani), Norway (Ørland), and Turkey (Konya). NATO E-3s have been flying regular patrols over Poland and Romania from Geilenkirchen and Konya during the ongoing war in Ukraine. The aircraft have been updated over the years, and in November 2019 NATO signed a $1 billion contract with Boeing for modernization and support to keep the fleet operational until 2035.


The NAEWF can also draw on the four E-3F aircraft operated by France, although the UK’s E-3D Sentry AEW.Mk 1 fleet was retired in August 2021. Three of the aircraft have subsequently been sold to Chile, with crew training currently being undertaken in the UK, and another was sold to the U.S. Navy to act as an aircrew trainer for the E-6B fleet.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force has launched a program to replace its own AWACS aircraft, which are designated E-3G. Boeing was handed a single-source contract in October 2021 to study and analyse the activities required to make its 737 airliner-based E-7 Wedgetail suitable for USAF operations. The E-7 is in service with Australia, South Korea and Turkey, and has been ordered by the UK to replace its retired E-3s. Other AWACS operators around the world are Saudi Arabia, which flies E-3As, and Japan, whose E-767s feature the AWACS system installed in a Boeing 767 airframe.

 
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