A New Era for the Horn of Africa?

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed (R) walks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (C) as an Eritrean delegation arrives for peace talks with Ethiopia at the international airport in Addis Ababa on June 26, 2018.

Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed (R) walks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (C) as an Eritrean delegation arrives for peace talks with Ethiopia at the international airport in Addis Ababa on June 26, 2018.

The Horn of Africa has struggled with consistently slow economic growth, in contrast with other regions of the continent. Whereas member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) saw average growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 7% in 2016, Somalia saw GDP growth of 3.4% in 2016, Eritrea had 3.8% in 2016, Djibouti was at 6.5% in 2016, while Ethiopia led the region at 8.3% in 2016. In some cases, such as Djibouti, higher-than-average economic growth has been accompanied by a worrying expansion of public debt, and all countries in the region are plagued by rampant youth unemployment. These poor economic conditions can in part be attributed to the security situation in the region; many West African states have been able to set aside their territorial disputes in order to pursue economic integration, while East Africa’s own regional organ, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), has been hampered by armed conflicts among its members.

Illustrative of this, Eritrea withdrew its membership in IGAD from 2007 to 2011 to protest perceived aggression by Ethiopia against neighbouring Somalia. A border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998-2000 resulted in an estimated 120,000 casualties, and persistent clashes since then over the disputed community of Badme have claimed still more lives. Somalia also accused the Eritrean authorities of arming al-Shabaab, a militant Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Similar accusations have been levelled by Sudan, which claimed in the early 2000’s that Eritrea had supplied weapons and other equipment to several organizations in Darfur, specifically the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, the Federal Democratic Union, and the Justice and Equality Movement.

However, the election of Abiy Ahmed as Prime Minister of Ethiopia in April 2018 has brought about a rapid improvement in the security situation in East Africa. Just two months later, in late June, a delegation led by Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh visited the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to formally open peace talks between the two countries. A flurry of negotiations followed, culminating in the visit by the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, on July 14 to conclude a formal peace agreement with Ethiopia. On July 25, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi traveled to the Eritrean capital of Asmara to establish diplomatic relations. Ethiopia is now mediating between Eritrea and Djibouti in an effort to normalize relations between those states as well.

A boy rides a biycle past damaged houses during Ethiopia-Eritrea war fought between 1998 to 2000 in Badme, territorial dispute town between Eritrea and Ethiopia currently occupied by Ethiopia, June 8, 2018.

A boy rides a biycle past damaged houses during Ethiopia-Eritrea war fought between 1998 to 2000 in Badme, territorial dispute town between Eritrea and Ethiopia currently occupied by Ethiopia, June 8, 2018.

The sudden rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea is particularly interesting, as tensions have persisted since Eritrea fought a bloody 30-year war to gain independence from Ethiopia, culminating in an internationally recognized independence referendum in Eritrea in 1993. That the parties to such a protracted conflict were able to reach a resolution without external involvement contradicts much of the prevailing academic theories regarding international conflict resolution. For example, in their review of successful mediation strategies over the past century, Jacob Bercovitch and Scott Sigmund Gartner identify the need for external parties to occupy two roles in any successful effort to resolve a protracted international conflict – that of “mediator” and “guarantor” (Jacob Bercovitch and Scott Sigmund Gartner, “International Conflict Mediation: New Approaches and Findings“, Routledge, 2009, p. 39-41). The “mediator” is oftentimes a small state which does not neighbour any of the parties to the conflict and so is seen by the parties to be impartial. Meanwhile, the “guarantor” is a global or regional power capable of enforcing the agreement, whether this might be through the deployment of peacekeepers to the region or the use of military force to deter aggression by one or more of the parties. Based on this theoretical framework, the Algiers Agreement would have presented the best hope of creating a lasting peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Consented to by both parties in 2000, the Algiers Agreement was mediated by Rwanda with the support of the United States, whose involvement in the talks indicated to both Ethiopia and Eritrea a willingness to act as guarantor.

One of the provisions of the Algiers Agreement was the establishment of an independent Boundary Commission to delimit the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, settling disputes over the territories of Tsorona-Zalambessa, Bure, and the aforementioned Badme. However, Ethiopia rejected the Commission’s 2003 ruling that Badme is Eritrean territory and refused to remove troops that it had stationed there, rendering the Algiers Agreement moot. While it could be argued that the Algiers Agreement does not follow the model developed by Bercovitch and Gartner insofar as the US did not credibly back-up its role as guarantor, the achievements reached so far by the Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders is remarkable.

The challenge, however, will be the implementation of the new bilateral peace agreement. Many of the Ethiopian residents of Badme have openly rejected Prime Minister Abiy’s decision to cede that territory to Eritrea and thus honour the 2003 ruling by the Boundary Commission. Hardliners in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party in Ethiopia that has long held considerable sway, have also indicated their opposition to many of the concessions made by Ethiopia in the most recent peace agreement. A clash over Badme as Eritrea seeks to apply its sovereignty in the community could unravel the progress made thus far toward peace on the Horn of Africa. Prime Minister Abiy will therefore need to walk a difficult political tight-rope in the coming months, having to preserve his own support base in Ethiopia while also demonstrating to Eritrea and other neighbours that he is a credible partner. This highlights one of the vulnerabilities to this self-starter peace process: without an external party serving as the guarantor, Prime Minister Abiy may face the terrible dilemma of deploying troops to Badme to assist Eritrea in gaining control of that territory and risk losing support at home, or else standby as Badme residents take matters into their own hands and so lose all credibility with the Eritreans.

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Waren NATOs Osterweiterungen ein gebrochenes Versprechen?

[The West] have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. — Vladimir Putin.

Nicht nur der russische Präsident Vladimir Putin bezichtigt die westlichen NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten Russland bei den NATO-Osterweiterungen hintergangen zu haben. In den Diskussionen zum belasteten Verhältnis zwischen Russland und der NATO ist öfters das Argument zu hören, dass die NATO mit ihrer Osterweiterungen in den Jahren 1999 und 2004 ein Versprechen gebrochen hätte, welches im Rahmen der deutschen Wiedervereinigung an die Sowjetunion abgegeben worden sei (siehe beispielsweise: Nick Ottens, “Russia’s Crimea invasion Follows Decades of Perceived Humiliation“, Offiziere.ch, 03.05.2014). Ob die NATO mit der Ausdehnung über die Grenzen von 1991 hinweg tatsächlich ein Versprechen oder gar eine Vereinbarung brach, stellt eine wichtige moralische Beurteilung des Verteidigungsbündnisses dar. Dies ist um so wichtiger, weil die NATO sich 1999 bei der Operation “Allied Force” über internationales Recht hinwegsetzte und die damalige Bundesrepublik Jugoslawien ohne Zustimmung des UN-Sicherheitsrats bombardierte. Kritiker der NATO könnten sowohl die Operation “Allied Force” wie auch die Osterweiterung als eine offensive Form der Machtausdehnung auslegen. Damit wäre das Bedrohungsempfinden Russlands gegenüber dem westlichen Verteidigungsbündnis ansatzweise begründet.

Offiziere.ch widmete sich diesem Thema bereits 2015 mit einem Artikel, welcher hiermit unter Berücksichtigung von neuen, Ende 2017 de-klassifizierten Dokumenten komplett neu verfasst wurde. Die Fragestellung bleibt jedoch gleich: Konnte Russland basierend auf der Zusicherung westlicher Staaten davon ausgehen, dass die NATO ihren Einflussbereich nicht weiter nach Osten ausdehnen würde? Inwiefern war die NATO-Osterweiterung ein gebrochenes Versprechen oder gar ein Verstoss gegen eine Vereinbarung?

Bei der Beantwortung der Fragestellung muss zwischen zwei unterschiedlichen, sich aber gegenseitig beeinflussenden und teilweise überlappenden Verhandlungsstränge unterschieden werden, welche in den Kapiteln 1 und 2 untersucht werden: die Verhandlungen über die deutsche Wiedervereinigung und diejenigen über eine neue europäische Sicherheitsarchitektur. Zusätzlich wird im Kapitel 3 das für das weitere Verhältnis zwischen der NATO und Russland entscheidende Jahr 1999 miteinbezogen, in welchem es zum eigentlichen Vertrauensbruch zwischen Russland auf einer, der USA, der NATO und ihrer Mitgliedsstaaten auf der anderen Seite gekommen war.

1 – Die Verhandlungen über die deutsche Wiedervereinigung

Mit dem Fall der Berliner Mauer und der Öffnung der innerdeutschen Grenze im Herbst 1989 stellte sich für die Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) die Frage der Existenzberechtigung. Der deutsche Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl nutzte die Gunst der Stunde und strebte eine möglichst schnelle Wiedervereinigung an. Diesbezügliche Pläne deutete er bereits am 17. November 1989 gegenüber dem U.S.-Präsidenten George H. W. Bush an.

Auf politischer Ebene kam die deutsche Wiedervereinigung das erste Mal im Zehn-Punkte-Programm Kohls am 28. November 1989 zur Sprache. Da nur eine handvoll Politiker über das Vorhaben unterrichtet waren, überraschte er mit dem vorgeschlagenen abgestuften Vorgehen zur Vereinigung Deutschlands und Europas sowohl internationale wie auch deutsche Politiker. In den zehn Punkten wird zwar festgehalten, dass der in den 1970er-Jahren durch die Konferenz über Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europa (KSZE) für die europäische Sicherheit wichtige Prozess weiterentwickelt werden soll, dass weitreichende und zügige Schritte in der Abrüstung und Rüstungskontrolle erfolgen sollen, und dass ein Zustand des Friedens in Europa erreicht werden soll, doch die Frage der Bündniszugehörigkeit eines wiedervereinigten Deutschlands wurde darin nicht angesprochen (Markus Lingen, “Kalender: 28.11.1989, Geschichte der CDU, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung“).

WAIDHAUS, GERMANY - DECEMBER 23: Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier symbolic cut the barb wire fence at the border of Germany and Czech Republic on December 23, 1989, in Waidhaus, Germany. The year 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (Photo by Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)***Local Caption*** Hans-Dietrich Genscher; Jiri Dienstbier

Der deutsche Aussenminister Hans-Dietrich Genscher und der tschechoslowakische Aussenminister Jiri Dienstbier haben am 23. Dezember 1989 in Waidhaus, Deutschland, symbolisch den Stacheldrahtzaun an der Grenze zwischen Deutschland und Tschechien durchgeschnitten.

Diese Frage wurde das erste Mal Ende Januar 1990 durch den deutschen Aussenminister Hans-Dietrich Genscher aufgegriffen. In einer Rede in der Evangelischen Akademie in Tutzing schlug Genscher ein wiedervereinigtes Deutschland innerhalb der NATO vor, bei dem die NATO-Strukturen sich jedoch nicht auf das Gebiet der DDR ausdehnen sollten. Er argumentierte, dass die Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands zu keiner Beeinträchtigung der sowjetischen Sicherheitsinteressen führen dürften. Aus diesem Grund sollte die NATO auf eine Expansion nach Osten und auf eine Annäherung an die sowjetische Grenze verzichten. Die Basis für die zukünftige europäische Sicherheitsarchitektur sah Genscher in einer kooperativen Zusammenarbeit zwischen der NATO und dem Warschauer Pakt, welche sich zukünftig stärker auf eine politische Rolle konzentrieren sollten (U.S. Departement of State, “U.S. Embassy Bonn Confidential Cable to Secretary of State on the Speech of the German Foreign Minister: Genscher Outlines His Vision of a New European Architecture“, The National Security Archive, 01.02.1990).

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Die sogenannte “Tutzing Formel” bildete die Basis für die ersten Verhandlungen zwischen dem U.S.-Aussenminister James A. Baker und dem Generalsekretär des Zentralkomitees der Kommunistischen Partei der Sowjetunion Michail Gorbatschow anfangs Februar 1990. Dabei versicherte Baker drei Mal, dass die NATO sich “keinen Zentimeter nach Osten” bewegen werde, und dass eine NATO-Expansion auch für die USA unakzeptabel sei (“Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow. (Excerpts)“, The National Security Archive, 09.02.1990). Danach hielt Baker auf einer Notiz fest: “End result: Unified Ger. anchored in a changed (polit.) NATO — whose juris. would not move eastward!” (Mary Elise Sarotte, “A Broken Promise?“, Foreign Affairs, 11.08.2014).

• • •

Baker: I want to ask you a question, and you need not answer it right now. Supposing unification takes place, what would you prefer: a united Germany outside of NATO, absolutely independent and without American troops; or a united Germany keeping its connections with NATO, but with the guarantee that NATO’s jurisprudence or troops will not spread east of the present boundary?
Gorbachev: We will think everything over. We intend to discuss all these questions in depth at the leadership level. It goes without saying that a broadening of the NATO zone is not acceptable.
Baker: We agree with that.

Quelle: “Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow. (Excerpts)“, The National Security Archive, 09.02.1990).

• • •

Erst nach der “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance” am Ende des NATO-Gipfels anfangs Juli 1990 führte die Sowjetunion die Verhandlungen über die deutsche Wiedervereinigung weiter. Diese Erklärung sah eine Aufwertung der politischen Komponenten innerhalb der NATO sowie eine Stärkung der KSZE vor. Nach einem bilateralen Treffen zwischen Kohl und Gorbatschow im Juli 1990 und einem emotional geführten Telefongespräch im September des gleichen Jahres, überzeugte (bzw. “kaufte” für 15 Milliarden Deutsche Mark) Kohl Gorbatschow für eine NATO-Mitgliedsschaft des wiedervereinigten Deutschlands. Die dabei vereinbarten Bedingungen wurden am Schluss der Verhandlungen im “Zwei-plus-Vier-Vertrag” formell festgehalten, welcher am 12. September 1990 in Moskau unterzeichnet wurde. Im Artikel 5 des Vertrages werden folgende Punkte festgehalten:

  • Bis zum vollständigen sowjetischen Truppenabzug aus der DDR dürfen ausschliesslich nicht in die NATO integrierte Kräfte der Deutschen Bundeswehr im Territorium der ehemaligen DDR eingesetzt werde.
  • Die Mannschaftsstärke und der zahlenmässige Umfang des Equipments der US-amerikanischen, britischen und französischen Truppen, welche in Berlin stationiert sind, dürfen nicht erhöht werden.
  • Nachdem die sowjetischen Truppen abgezogen wurden, können der NATO zugewiesene deutsche, jedoch keine ausländischen Kräfte und auch keine Nuklearwaffen auf dem Gebiet der ehemaligen DDR stationiert werden.

Bei der Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands war die zukünftige Bündniszugehörigkeit ein wesentlicher Verhandlungspunkt. Die mündliche Zusicherung, dass die NATO nicht nach Osten expandieren würde, und die “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance” waren entscheidende Faktoren, dass nach anfänglichen Bedenken Gorbatschows einer NATO-Mitgliedschaft des wiedervereinigten Deutschlands zugestimmt wurde. Die westlichen Zusicherungen müssen jedoch in dem damaligen Kontext beurteilt werden, dass die Auflösung des Warschauer Pakts noch nicht absehbar war, und dass Deutschland mit der Oder-Neisse-Grenze mit Polen direkt an ein Mitgliedsstaat des Warschauer Pakts grenzte (Mark Kramer, “The Myth of a No-NATO-Enlargement Pledge to Russia“, The Washington Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 2, April 2009, p. 39–61). Bakers “not one inch eastward” bezog sich auf das Gebiet der ehemaligen DDR — nicht mehr und nicht weniger — was konsequenterweise auch im “Zwei-plus-Vier-Vertrag” formell festgehalten wurde.

Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl und Michail Gorbatschow im November 1990 in Bonn. (Foto: Schambeck, Bundesregierung).

Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl und Michail Gorbatschow im November 1990 in Bonn. (Foto: Schambeck, Bundesregierung).

2 – Die Verhandlungen über eine neue europäische Sicherheitsarchitektur

Gegenüber Gorbatschow wurde von westlicher Seite immer wieder betont, dass die USA und die NATO die Interessen der Sowjetunion berücksichtigen würden. Beispielsweise versicherte Bush Gorbatschow während des Gipfeltreffens in Malta anfangs Dezember 1989 mündlich, dass die USA die Umbrüche in Osteuropa nicht zum Schaden der Sowjetunion ausnutzen würden. (Svetlana Savranskaya und Tom Blanton, “NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard“, National Security Archive, 12.12.2017). Im Februar 1990 diskutierte Genscher im Rahmen der Verhandlungen über eine deutsche Wiedervereinigung mit dem britischen Aussenminister Douglas Hurd die Möglichkeit einer NATO-Osterweiterung in das Gebiet der zentral- und osteuropäischen Staaten. Er vertrat dabei die Meinung, dass die Sowjetunion Sicherheiten benötigen würde, dass beispielsweise die polnische Regierung nicht eines Tages den Warschauer Pakt verlassen und am Folgetag der NATO beitreten könnte. (“Mr. Hurd to Sir C. Mallaby (Bonn). Telegraphic N. 85: Secretary of State’s Call on Herr Genscher: German Unification“, The National Security Archive, 06.02.1990). Auch gegenüber Baker gab Genscher zu verstehen, dass die NATO weder auf das Gebiet der ehemaligen DDR, noch irgendwo anders im zentral- bzw. osteuropäischen Raum ausgedehnt werden sollte. Dieser Auffassung stimmte Baker zu (Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson, “Deal or No Deal?: The End of the Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion“, International Security, vol. 40, no. 4, 10.05.2016, p. 22). Später, im April 1990, versicherte auch Hurd Gorbatschow, dass Grossbritannien nichts unternehmen würde, was die sowjetischen Interessen und deren Würde beeinträchtigen könnte. In diesem Treffen formulierte Gorbatschow seine Idee einer europäischen Sicherheitsarchitektur, welche das Territorium vom Atlantik bis zum Ural umfassen sollte (“Sir R. Braithwaite (Moscow). Telegraphic N. 667: ‘Secretary of State’s Meeting with President Gorbachev.’“, The National Security Archive, 11.04.1990). Ein Bericht von Baker an Bush nach einem Treffen mit dem sowjetischen Aussenminister Eduard Shevardnadze am 4. Mai 1990 beschreibt stellvertretend den Wortlaut der westlichen Staatschefs gegenüber Gorbatschow wie folgt:

I used your speech and our recognition of the need to adapt NATO, politically and militarily, and to develop CSCE to reassure Shevardnadze that the process would not yield winners and losers. Instead, it would produce a new legitimate European structure – one that would be inclusive, not exclusive. — Stellungnahme des U.S.-Aussenminister James A. Baker an den U.S. Präsident George H. W. Bush.

In einem späteren Treffen im Mai 1990 äusserte Gorbatschow gegenüber Baker erste Bedenken, dass die USA die osteuropäischen Staaten von der Sowjetunion abtrennen möchten. Gleichzeitig schlug er vor, dass sowohl die NATO wie auch der Warschauer Pakt durch eine neue übergreifende Sicherheitsarchitektur ersetzt werden sollten. Baker wiederholte seinen Standpunkt, dass es nicht das Ziel der USA sei, Osteuropa von der Sowjetunion zu trennen. Das Interesse der USA läge an der Bildung eines stabilen Europas in Zusammenarbeit mit der Sowjetunion. In neun Punkten stellte er die Transformation der NATO zu einer politischen Organisation, die Stärkung der Sicherheitsstrukturen innerhalb Europas auf Basis der Weiterentwicklung der KSZE, die Sicherstellung eines nicht mit Massenvernichtungswaffen gerüsteten Deutschlands und den Einbezug der sowjetischen Sicherheitsinteressen in Aussicht (Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow, p. 3f, 19, 21ff). Dies führte schliesslich am NATO-Gipfeltreffen im Juli 1990 zur “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance”, welche die Verhandlungen für die deutsche Wiedervereinigung ermöglichte und von sowjetischer Seite als einen wichtigen Meilenstein für die Zukunft der europäischen Sicherheitsarchitektur betrachtet wurde. Gorbatschow konnte mit dieser Deklaration gegen die Hardliner in den eigenen Reihen antreten und argumentieren, dass es die USA mit der Transformation der europäischen Sicherheitsarchitektur mit Einbezug der Sowjetunion ernst meine. Die Auflösung des Warschauer Pakts am 1. Juli 1991 und die Auflösung der Sowjetunion Ende 1991 veränderte die europäische Sicherheitsstruktur jedoch grundlegend und kreierte im mittel- und osteuropäischen Raum ein nicht zu unterschätzendes Machtvakuum.

US President George Bush (L) shares a joke with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (R) on December 03, 1989 on board the soviet cruise "Maxim Gorki", shipdocked at Marsaxlokk harbour, during their joint press conference at the end of their two-day first summit meeting. This summit is viewed as the official end of the Cold War. (Photo credit should read JONATHAN UTZ/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S.-Präsidenten George H. W. Bush und Generalsekretär des Zentralkomitees der Kommunistischen Partei der Sowjetunion Michail Gorbatschow während des Gipfeltreffens in Malta anfangs Dezember 1989.

There is evident movement in NATO towards a transformation, with an emphasis on the political range of action. In London, a big step was taken to throw off the shackles of the past. The fact that the Soviet Union is no longer regarded as an enemy by the West is very important for the development of plans for the future. — Michail S. Gorbatschow in einem Vier-Augen-Gespräch mit Helmut Kohl am 15. Juli 1990 in Moskau.

Vor der Auflösung des Warschauer Pakts und der Sowjetunionen waren das U.S.-Aussen- und das U.S.-Verteidigungsministerium gegen eine Expansion der NATO, welche als eine anti-sowjetische Koalition aufgefasst hätte werden können (“U.S. Department of State, European Bureau: Revised NATO Strategy Paper for Discussion at Sub-Ungroup Meeting“, The National Security Archive, 22.10.1990). Die Bush-Administration folgte dieser Empfehlung, welche auch von den übrigen NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten mitgetragen wurde. So hatte beispielsweise der britische Premierminister John Major noch im März 1991 versichert, dass eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft für osteuropäische Staaten nicht in Frage kommen würde (“Ambassador Rodric Braithwaite Diary“, The National Security Archive, 05.03.1991, p. 3). NATO-Generalsekretär Manfred Wörner bestätigte am 1. Juli 1991 einer Delegation des Obersten Sowjets in Russland, dass sich im Nordatlantikrat 13 der 16 Mitgliedsstaaten gegen eine Expansion der NATO ausgesprochen hätten (“Memorandum to Boris Yeltsin from Russian Supreme Soviet Delegation to NATO HQs“, The National Security Archive, 03.07.1991). Dieser Standpunkt blieb bis zur Auflösung der Sowjetunion Ende 1991 gültig. Bush hatte sich in der sogenannten “Chicken Kiev” Rede am 1. August 1991 sogar gegen die Unabhängigkeit der Ukraine ausgesprochen, weshalb er anschliessend von ukrainischen Nationalisten und konservativen Politikern in den USA heftig kritisiert wurde (“After the Summit; Excerpts From Bush’s Ukraine Speech: Working ‘for the Good of Both of us’“, The New York Times, 02.08.1991). Nach der Auflösung der Sowjetunion änderte sich der Ton in den USA jedoch schlagartig – auch weil 1992 die Wahl der zweiten Amtszeit für Bush vor der Tür stand (welche er jedoch nicht schaffte). In der “Ansprache zur Lage der Union” im Januar 1992 sagte Bush: “By the grace of God, America won the cold war. […] A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America.”

Now the West has no argument to say no to Poland. Until now the West has been using the argument, ‘We don’t want to upset the Russians.’ Now we will see the true intentions of the West toward Poland. — Andrzej Drzycimski, Sprecher des polnischen Präsidenten Lech Walesa nach der Rede von Boris Jelzin im August 1993 in Warschau zitiert in Jane Perlez, “Yeltsin ‘Understands’ Polish Bid for a Role in NATO“, The New York Times, 26.08.1993).

Es war paradoxerweise ausgerechnet der russische Präsident Boris Jelzin, welcher die Möglichkeit einer NATO-Osterweiterung wieder zur Diskussion gestellt hatte. In einer Rede im August 1993 in Warschau und später in Prag versicherte er, basierend auf die KSZE-Schlussakte von Helsinki, dass jeder Staat eigenständig über eine Allianzzugehörigkeit bestimmen könne. Damit hatte er Polen grünes Licht für eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft gegeben (“Your October 6 Lunch Meeting with Secretary Aspin and Mr. Lake“, The National Security Archive, 05.10.1993, p. 4). Unter innenpolitischem Druck ruderte Jelzin jedoch schon bald wieder zurück (Talbott, p. 95ff). In einem Brief Mitte September 1993 an U.S.-Präsident Bill Clinton erinnerte er daran, dass basierend auf den Gesprächen zur Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands eine NATO-Osterweiterung nicht in Frage käme. Was ihm eigentlich vorschwebe, sei eine neue europäische Sicherheitsarchitektur, in welcher Russland mit integriert sei, zur kollektiven Prävention und Lösung von Krisen. Dies könne auch auf der Grundlage einer transformierten NATO geschehen, wobei die Beziehung der NATO zu Russland im Vergleich zu den osteuropäischen Staaten einen privilegierteren Status erhalten sollte (“Retranslation of Yeltsin Letter on NATO Expansion“, The National Security Archive, 09.10.1993).

Auf U.S.-amerikanischer Seite führte Jelzins Brief zur Idee der “Partnership for Peace” (PfP), welche erstmals am 22. Oktober 1993 von U.S.-Staatssekretär Warren Christopher Jelzin unterbreitet wurde. Jelzin wurde dabei versichert, dass die PfP alle europäischen Staaten inklusive Russland umfassen sollte. Christopher erwähnte in seinem Gespräch jedoch auch, dass die PfP als Basis für eine langfristige NATO-Mitgliedschaft diene – “PFP [sic!] today, enlargement tomorrow”. Jelzin und seine Berater überhörten jedoch diesen Teil der Botschaft (“Secretary Christopher’s Meeting with President Yeltsin, 10/22/93, Moscow“, The National Security Archive, 25.10.1993). Vielmehr fassten sie die PfP als eine Nachfolgeorganisation der NATO auf (Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton, “NATO Expansion: What Yeltsin Heard“, National Security Archive, 16.03.2018). Im direkten Gespräch im Januar 1994 informierte Clinton Jelzin, dass die USA eine NATO-Osterweiterung zwar nicht beschleunigen wolle, dass Russland in dieser Frage jedoch kein Veto-Recht besitze.

Als Reaktion auf eine von U.S.-Staatssekretär Richard Holbrooke initiierte NATO-Studie über das “wie und warum” neuer Mitgliedsstaaten unterstrich Jelzin in einem Brief an Clinton noch einmal seine Hoffnung, dass die KSZE zu einer vollwertigen europäischen Sicherheitsorganisation ausgebaut werden würde (“Official Informal No. 248 ‘Boris-Bill Letter’“, The National Security Archive, 06.12.1994). Verärgert über Holbrookes vorpreschen, verweigerte der russische Aussenminister Andrei Kozyrev im Dezember 1994 die Unterschrift zur PfP. Ausserdem überraschte Jelzin Clinton am Gipfeltreffen der KSZE in Budapest mit der Frage, weshalb die NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten gegenüber Russland Misstrauen sähen würden. Clinton stellte daraufhin noch einmal klar, dass kein Staat ausserhalb der NATO bei einem Beitrittsentscheid ein Veto-Recht besitzen würde (Elaine Sciolino, “Yeltsin Says Nato Is Trying to Split Continent Again“, The New York Times, 06.12.1994). Im Mai 1995 unterstrich Clinton bei einem Treffen mit Jelzin, dass die NATO-Mitgliedschaft mittel- und osteuropäischer Staaten nicht verhinderbar sei, dass aber der Zeitpunkt des Beitritts beeinflusst werden kann. Danach schien sich Jelzin zunehmend mit der NATO-Osterweiterung abzufinden, sollte sie nach den russischen Parlaments- und Präsidentschaftswahlen 1996 stattfinden und dadurch für ihn keinen negativen innenpolitischen Einfluss haben (“Summary Report on One-on-One Meeting between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin, May 10, 1995, Kremlin“, The National Security Archive, 10.05.1995).

Innenpolitisch sah die Situation in Russland jedoch anders aus. Nicht überraschend sahen die russischen Militärs die NATO-Osterweiterung als Bedrohung (so festgehalten in der russischen Militärdoktrin vom November 1993). Auch in der Duma regte sich zunehmend Widerstand: In einer geschlossenen Anhörung im April 1995 wurde die Sorge geäussert, dass die USA das Machtgefälle zu Russland dermassen ausnutzen wolle, dass Russland dauerhaft den Status eines Junior-Partners behalten würde. Die NATO-Osterweiterung wurde als Bedrohung für die nationalen Sicherheitsinteressen Russlands und für die Sicherheit Europas betrachtet. Das Ignorieren russischer Interessen wurde als eine Isolierung Russlands vom Rest Europas wahrgenommen (Vladimir Lukin, “Information Memorandum on the Results of the Parliamentary Hearing on the Subject: ‘Russian-American Relations’“, Committee of Foreign Affairs, 25.04.1995).

Es ist zwar richtig, dass sich der “Zwei-plus-Vier-Vertrag” nur auf die Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands bezogen hat, und dass es ansonsten keine schriftliche Zusicherung gibt, dass sich die NATO nicht nach Osteuropa ausdehnen würde. Trotzdem können die informellen und formellen Gespräche sowie die Verhandlungen über eine neue europäische Sicherheitsarchitektur, welche nach der Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands weitergeführt wurden, nicht einfach ausgeblendet werden. Am Schluss seiner Funktion als Staatspräsident der Sowjetunion wurde Gorbatschow glaubhaft versichert, dass die NATO sich nicht in das Gebiet der zentral- und osteuropäischen Staaten ausdehnen würde. Gleichzeitig muss jedoch auch berücksichtigt werden, dass mit der Auflösung des Warschauer Pakts und der Sowjetunion sich die europäische Sicherheitsstruktur grundlegend verändert hatte. Das damit entstandene Machtvakuum konnte nebst der NATO weder Russland noch irgend eine andere europäische Sicherheitsorganisation ausfüllen. Im Gegenteil: Mit all den politischen und ökonomischen Turbulenzen in Russland konnte eine stabile Zukunft im osteuropäischen Raum nicht als garantiert angenommen werden. Nicht primär die NATO, sondern die mittel- und osteuropäischen Staaten wollten aus sicherheitspolitischen Überlegungen um jeden Preis eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft. Im Gegensatz zu Gorbatschow wurde Jelzin von Anfang an klar gemacht, dass eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft der mittel- und osteuropäischen Staaten unvermeidbar sei. Schliesslich war es ausgerechnet Jelzin, welcher mit seinen Reden in Warschau und Prag sowie mit der Abstützung auf die KSZE-Schlussakte von Helsinki den Ball ins Rollen gebracht hatte.

3 – Der Vertrauensbruch 1999

Die NATO-Operation "Allied Force" 1999 wurde nicht vom UN Sicherheitsrat autorisiert.

Die NATO-Operation “Allied Force” 1999 wurde nicht vom UN Sicherheitsrat autorisiert.

Wie zwischen Clinton und Jelzin vereinbart, wurde die Ankündigung einer NATO-Osterweiterung bis nach Ende der russischen Parlaments- und Präsidentschaftswahlen aufgeschoben. Da eine Verhinderung der NATO-Osterweiterung aufgrund wirtschaftlicher und militärischer Schwäche nicht möglich war, versuchte Russland bei den Entscheidungsprozessen der NATO ein Mitspracherecht einzufordern. Deshalb wurde bereits vor dem NATO-Gipfeltreffen von 1997 mit Russland ein “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security” unterzeichnet und ein “NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council” geschaffen. Faktisch erhöhte dies das Mitspracherecht Russlands in der NATO jedoch nicht, was 1999 mit der NATO-Operation “Allied Force” offensichtlich wurde.

Am NATO-Gipfeltreffen anfangs Juni 1997 wurden Polen, Tschechien und Ungarn Beitrittsverhandlungen angeboten mit der Aussicht bis zum Jahre 1999 der NATO beitreten zu können. Für Russland bedeutet dies zwar keine Überraschung, jedoch trotzdem eine Niederlage. Nicht nur stellte sich Russland gegen die NATO-Osterweiterung, sondern dieser Entscheid kam einer Absage der von Moskau vorgeschlagenen pan-europäischen Sicherheitsarchitektur “zweiter Generation” mit Einbezug Russlands gleich und wies auf eine zunehmende Verlagerung des Machtgleichgewichts auf dem europäischen Kontinent zu Ungunsten Russlands hin. (Mike Bowker und Cameron Ross, “Russia After the Cold War“, Routledge, 2000, p. 344).

Madeleine, don’t you understand we have many Kosovos in Russia? — Russischer Aussenminister Igor Ivanov zur U.S.-amerikanischen Aussenministerin Madeleine Albright im Winter 1998 zitiert in Talbott, p. 301.

Das war jedoch nicht der einzige Entscheid der USA und der NATO, welche gegen die Interessen Russlands gerichtet war. Bereits im Oktober 1998 gab Jelzin Clinton zu verstehen, dass eine Intervention der NATO im Kosovokrieg, wie es bereits im Bosnienkrieg der Fall war, von Russland vehement abgelehnt würde. Aus russischer Sicht wäre dies nach Bosnien und Irak das dritte Mal bei dem die USA ihren Willen mit Gewalt durchsetzen und sich dabei als Weltpolizisten aufspielen würden, ohne die russischen Interessen miteinzubeziehen. Zusätzlich sahen die Russen Parallelen zum Konflikt in Tschetschenien, wobei Russland eine zu Serbien vergleichbare Stellung einnahm. Mit dem Veto-Recht im UN-Sicherheitsrat hatte Russland die Möglichkeit eine UN-Resolution, welche eine militärische Intervention der NATO im Kosovo autorisiert hätte, zu verunmöglichen (Talbott, p. 300f).

Am 24. März 1999, also nur zwölf Tage nach der Aufnahme Polens, Tschechiens und Ungarns als neue Mitgliedsstaaten, bombardierte die NATO ohne Autorisierung des UN-Sicherheitsrats Ziele in der damaligen Bundesrepublik Jugoslawien, welche militärtechnisch, kulturell und religiös mit Russland verbunden war. Darüber hinaus legte die NATO während ihrem Gipfeltreffen vom April 1999 in ihrem neu überarbeiteten strategischen Konzept fest, dass konventionelle NATO-Truppen die Fähigkeit aufweisen müssten, ausserhalb des Bündnisgebietes militärische Operationen durchzuführen (die Grundlage der sogenannten “out-of-area” Einsätze). Aus russischer Sicht wandelte sich damit das nordatlantische Verteidigungsbündnis zu einem offensiven militärischen Sicherheitsinstrument des Westens – ein klarer Vertrauensbruch, nachdem die Russen die NATO-Osterweiterung hinnehmen mussten. Es erstaunt deshalb nicht, dass Russland später bei dem von U.S.-Präsident George W. Bush vorangetriebenen US/NATO-Raketenschutzschild der Zusicherung, dass dieses Projekt nicht zur Neutralisierung der russischen Zweitschlagfähigkeit gedacht sei, wenig Glauben schenkte.

In Reaktion auf die Bombardierungen der damaligen Bundesrepublik Jugoslawien kam es vor der U.S.-Botschaft in Moskau zu gewalttätige Ausschreitungen. Russland zog ausserdem ihre militärische Vertretung aus dem NATO-Hauptquartier ab, reduzierte ihren Verbindungsstab bei der NATO, suspendierte alle PfP-Aktivitäten und brach alle Arbeitssitzungen des “NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Councils” ab. Aber auch die Beziehungen zu den USA verschlechterten sich nachhaltig, was beispielsweise am OSZE-Gipfeltreffen der Staats- und Regierungschefs in Istanbul im November 1999 zwischen Clinton und Jelzin offensichtlich wurde. Insbesondere die U.S-amerikanische Kritik an der russischen Kriegsführung während des Zweiten Tschetschenienkriegs wurde nicht nur als eine unzulässige Einmischung in die innerstaatlichen Angelegenheiten Russlands aufgefasst, sondern als Doppelmoral: Aus russicher Sicht nahmen sich die USA im Rahmen der NATO-Operation “Allied Force” das Recht die Bundesrepublik Jugoslawien zu bombardieren, prangerten jedoch gleichzeitig den russischen Einsatz von Bombern in Tschetschenien als unverhältnismässig an. Mit dem Rücktritt von Jelzin Ende 1999 und der Wahl von Putin am 26. März 2000 wurde gleichzeitig auch klar, dass die Zeit der “pro-westlichen” Reformer in Russland zu einem Ende gekommen war und ein stärkerer eigenständiger, selbstbewusster und nationalistischer politischer Kurs eingeschlagen wird (Talbott, p. 306, 361ff, 367).

View from downtown Belgrade to the building of the headquarters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party, which was hit during the early morning NATO air attack on Belgrade, 21 April 1999.

Blick von der Innenstadt Belgrads auf das Gebäude des Hauptsitzes der sozialistischen Partei des jugoslawischen Präsidenten Slobodan Milosevic, welches am frühen Morgen des NATO-Luftangriffs auf Belgrad, 21. April 1999, getroffen wurde.


Weder wurde mit der Sowjetunion noch mit Russland jemals eine nach internationalem Recht bindende Vereinbarung getroffen, welche die Aufnahme von neuen NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten in Mittel- und Osteuropa ausschliessen würde. Im Gegenteil, wie Jelzin 1993 richtig bemerkt hatte, kann basierend auf der KSZE-Schlussakte von Helsinki jeder Staat selber über eine Allianzzugehörigkeit bestimmen. Zwar handelt es sich bei diesem Dokument nicht um ein völkerrechtlicher Vertrag, trotzdem verpflichten sich darin die unterzeichnenden Staaten zur Achtung der Souveränität, zur Unverletzlichkeit der Grenzen, zur friedlichen Regelung von Streitfällen, zur Nichteinmischung in die inneren Angelegenheiten anderer Staaten sowie zur Wahrung der Menschenrechte und Grundfreiheiten. Russland als international anerkannter Nachfolgestaat der Sowjetunion ist der im August 1975 durch die Sowjetunion unterschriebenen Schlussakte von Helsinki verpflichtet.

Die deklassifizierten Dokumente zeigen jedoch eindeutig auf, dass Gorbatschow wiederholt mündlich zugesichert wurde, dass die NATO sich nicht nach Osten ausdehnen würde. Sowohl in der nationalen Rechtssprechung wie auch in der internationalen Politik können auch mündliche Zusagen und Abmachungen Rechtsgültigkeit erlangen. Sogar rechtlich nicht bindende Abmachungen werden in der internationalen Politik als wichtige Instrumente betrachtet (Michael R. Gordon, “Kerry Criticizes Republican Letter to Iranian Leaders on Nuclear Talks“, The New York Times, 21.12.2017). Ausserdem muss zusätzlich berücksichtigt werden, dass solche informelle Abmachungen während des Kalten Kriegs von hoher Wichtigkeit waren (Shifrinson, 17f). Die an Gorbatschow gemachten Versprechungen im Rahmen der Verhandlungen über die deutsche Wiedervereinigung müssen jedoch auch im damaligen Kontext betrachtet werden: Mit dem Warschauer Pakt östlich der Oder-Neisse-Grenze bezog sich die Zusicherung auf das Territorium der DDR, nicht auf Mittel- und Osteuropa. Genau dies wurde auch im “Zwei-plus-Vier-Vertrag” formell geregelt – nicht mehr und nicht weniger.

Etwas anders sieht es bei den Verhandlungen über eine neue europäische Sicherheitsstruktur aus. Mündlich wurde Gorbatschow bis am Schluss versichert, dass die westlichen Staaten nicht entgegen der Interessen der Sowjetunion agieren würden. Im Gegenteil sollte die für die Sowjetunion entscheidende “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance” eine neuen europäische Sicherheitsarchitektur initiieren. Angedacht war eine kooperative Sicherheitsstruktur zwischen der NATO und dem Warschauer Pakt, welche sich zukünftig stärker auf eine politische Rolle konzentrieren sollten. Die Auflösung des Warschauer Pakts und der Sowjetunion entzog einer solchen kooperative Sicherheitsstruktur jedoch die Grundlage und konsequenterweise wurden die Versprechungen an Gorbatschow gegenüber Jelzin nie wiederholt. Im Gegenteil wurde Jelzin von Anfang an klar gemacht, dass eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft der mittel- und osteuropäischen Staaten langfristig unvermeidbar sein wird. Zwar wurde trotz der Auflösung des Warschauer Pakts 1995 die KSZE zur Organisation für Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europa (OSZE) aufgewertet, doch die Beschlussfassung im allgemeinen Konsensprinzip (jeder Mitgliedsstaat verfügt faktisch über ein Veto, Einstimmigkeit ist bei Beschlüssen jedoch nicht Voraussetzung) schränkt die Handlungsfähigkeit der 57 Staaten umfassende OSZE stark ein. Das zeigte sich beispielhaft 2010 als es beim letztmaligen OSZE-Gipfeltreffen der Staats- und Regierungschefs (nach 11 Jahren Pause) nicht gelang ein Aktionsplan zu verabschieden, welcher die OSZE langfristig erneuern und die Handlungsfähigkeit erhöhen sollte. (Christian Neef, “Gescheiterter OSZE-Gipfel: Staatschefs blamieren sich auf der Mammutshow“, Spiegel Online, 03.12.2010).

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walks after inspecting a new Russian fighter jet after its test flight in Zhukovksy, outside Moscow, Thursday, June 17, 2010. The new jet, Sukhoi T-50, is Russia's response to the latest U.S. F-22 Raptor fighters. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Pool)

Der russische Präsident Vladimir Putin nach der Inspektion eines neuen russischen Kampfflugzeugs.

Es wäre naiv auszublenden, dass mit der Auflösung des Warschauer Pakts anfangs Juli 1991 sich die europäische Sicherheitsstruktur komplett verändert hatte und in Mittel- und Osteuropa ein Sicherheitsvakuum erzeugt wurde. Aus eigenen sicherheitspolitischen Überlegungen wollten die ehemaligen europäischen Mitgliedsstaaten des Warschauer Pakts der NATO beitreten. Der grundlegende Impuls ging also nicht von der NATO, sondern von den betroffenen Staaten aus. Ausserdem war es ausgerechnet der russische Präsident Boris Jelzin, welcher mit seinen Reden in Warschau und Prag sowie mit der Abstützung auf die KSZE-Schlussakte von Helsinki den Ball ins Rollen gebracht hatte. Im Nachhinein stand Jelzin zwar kritisch zur NATO-Osterweiterung, doch dies hatte innenpolitische Gründe. Interessanterweise stellte sich später auch Putin kaum gegen die zweite NATO-Osterweiterung (Talbott, p. 415). Der politisch motivierte Vorwurf an die NATO mit ihrer Osterweiterung ein Versprechen gebrochen zu haben, wurde erst später aufgelegt und erstmals von Putin an seiner Ansprache an der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz von 2007 vorgebracht (Vladimir Putin, “Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy“, 10.02.2007, Wikisource).

Doch auch die USA und die NATO haben sich moralisch nicht einwandfrei verhalten. Nach der NATO-Osterweiterung haben sie mit der Operation “Allied Force” und dem neuen strategischen Konzept das russische Vertrauen in die Absichten der westlichen Staaten nachhaltig zerstört. Das änderte sich auch nach 1999 nicht: Weitere Erweiterungsrunden (beispielsweise Pläne die Ukraine und Georgien als NATO-Mitgliedsstaat aufzunehmen) und das vorangetriebene US-Raketenschutzschild untergruben die Beziehungen zu Russland noch weiter. Ein wirkliches Mitspracherecht hatte Russland weder bei den Verhandlungen mit den USA noch mit der NATO. Nur eines hat sich geändert: Mit der Wahl von Putin im Jahre 2000 trat Russland erstmal wieder eigenständiger, selbstbewusster und nationalistischer auf.

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Angola Takes Delivery of Four Su-30KN

Skysat imagery acquired on 20OCT2018 shows two Su-30KN parked at Lubango.

Skysat imagery acquired on 20OCT2018 shows two Su-30KN parked at Lubango.

Four Su-30 multi-role fighter have been delivered to Angola as of October 2018, satellite imagery confirms. The aircraft are part of a $1 billion deal for 12 airframes signed with Russia in 2013. Imagery captured the aircraft parked on the apron at the Lubango civil-military airport in Huíla province. The fighters were formerly flown by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and returned to Russia in the early 2000s after the IAF acquired the Su-30MKI variant.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Su-30 were transferred to neighboring Belarus where they were recently modernized to the ‘KN’ standard at the 558 Aircraft Repair Plant (ARZ). Planet Labs imagery of the 558 still shows eight remaining Angolan fighters parked at the plant in Baranovichi. They are identified by their unique green and yellow camo pattern. However, one of the airframes observed in Angola features a different camo pattern — a grey paint scheme — than the rest of the aircraft in the order.

Skysat imagery acquired in Sept show the 8 remaining Su-30KN in the Angolan order.

Skysat imagery acquired in Sept show the 8 remaining Su-30KN in the Angolan order.

Media reports appearing last September said that deliveries would be completed by ‘early 2018’. The ongoing delay suggests there could be an issue with the order. Angola, highly dependent on oil rents as a source of fiscal revenue and foreign exchange, may have encountered difficulties paying for the aircraft. (Oil accounts for over 70 per cent of government revenue and over 95 percent of the country’s exports.) Data provided by OPEC and published through the IMF show a continued drop in oil production, falling below the OPEC quota in late 2017. Moreover, the economic situation worsened around the scheduled time of delivery as the currency was devalued by 56.7 percent (in relation to the US dollar) between Q1 and Q2. The new government elected in September 2017 began economic reforms which, inter alia, included a move toward a floating exchange rate.

Bottom Line
More than half of the Angolan order remains in Belarus as of October 2018 likely due to budgetary constraints.

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F-35: High-tech fighter jet or 1.5 trillion US dollar disaster?

by Roger Näbig (Twitter). He works as a lawyer and freelance journalist in Berlin with a focus on global conflicts, defense, security, military policy, armaments technology, and international law. He also gives lectures on defense policy issues. For a German version of the article see here.

F-35A off the coast of Northwest Florida (photo: U.S. Air Force by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen [Public domain]).

F-35A off the coast of Northwest Florida (photo: U.S. Air Force by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen [Public domain]).

It is the most expensive military aircraft procurement program in the world: the F-35 Lightning II. Lockheed Martin is developing it for the US Air Force (USAF), US Navy (USN) and US Marine Corps (USMC) as part of the Joint Strike Fighter program to develop a 5th generation jet fighter to replace the F-16 Falcon, F-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier II and A-10 Warthog in the US Air Force. While the “A” version for the USAF takes off and lands conventionally (CTOL: Conventional Take-Off and Landing), the “B” is a short take-off and vertical landing variant specially developed for the USMC and its amphibious attack ships (STOVL: Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing). There is also a “C” version, which will be used on USN aircraft carriers (CV: Carrier Variant). By 2070, the procurement, operation, and maintenance of the approximately 2,400 combat aircraft will cost about $1.5 trillion.

The F-35 is to become a leading export
In contrast to the F-22 Raptor, the stealth air superiority fighter, the F-35 has always been intended for export from the very beginning. Eight other countries are not only purchasing the F-35 but are also actively involved in the overall financing of the project and the construction of the combat aircraft: Great Britain, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Israel has a unique position in the project because it is the only country that is allowed to equip the F-35 with its avionics and software and is in charge of its maintenance. Finally, Japan and Korea are purely purchasing countries. Despite this international cooperation, the project is seven years behind schedule and $163 billion over its original budget. Each “A” version jet currently costs about $95 million; the “B” and “C” version cost around $120 million. While at the beginning of the development phase, the planners had still provided for an 80% part compatibility for the “A”, “B” and “C” to reduce maintenance costs, depending on the version, that currently stands at only 27% to 43%. Reasons for this included the USMC’s desire for STOVL capability to replace the old VTOL AV-8B fighter jets and the USN’s need for larger, foldable wings with more fuel load and reinforced landing gear for the use on aircraft carriers. The USAF was a bit more frugal at the beginning. It only wanted to replace its F-16s and A-10s, although it was planned to purchase a more significant number of F-22s, which could not be realized later for cost reasons. The F-35 closes now this resulting gap in air superiority fighters.

U.S. Government [Public domain]

U.S. Government [Public domain]

The German Air Force wants the F-35 to replace the Tornado
At the end of last year, former German Air Force inspector Karl Müllner indirectly pleaded for the F-35 to replace the outdated 85 German Tornado multi-purpose combat aircraft. According to Müllner, the Air Force needs a combat aircraft that can engage enemy targets from a far distance with a low radar signature. It is already too late for entirely new development. The Ministry of Defense, on the other hand, declared to prefer an advanced Eurofighter Typhoon as a replacement for the Tornado and is probably only second to the procurement of the F-35, F-15 or F/A-18 (“‘F-35’ für die Bundeswehr?: Luftwaffe benennt Anforderungen an ‘Tornado’-Nachfolger“, Spiegel Online, November 08, 2017). General Müllner was sent into early retirement on May 29, 2018. Procurement is politically and militarily sensitive because the German Tornadoes are intended for so-called “nuclear sharing“. While the US fighter planes (F-15, F-18) all have or will soon have (F-35 probably in 2020) a certification for the dropping of the corresponding B61 atomic bombs, the Eurofighter, apart from the still to be created technical conditions, would have to get a corresponding certification from the US government at all. For this, the US would require an insight into the technical specifications and documents of the Eurofighter, which is hardly acceptable to the European partners of the project for competitive reasons alone.

Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000 (reg. 30+68) of the German Air Force (Deutsche Luftwaffe, Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 74) at ILA Berlin Air Show 2016 (photo: Julian Herzog [GFDL or CC BY 4.0].

Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000 (reg. 30+68) of the German Air Force (Deutsche Luftwaffe, Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 74) at ILA Berlin Air Show 2016 (photo: Julian Herzog [GFDL or CC BY 4.0].

Is the F-35 the right aircraft for the German Air Force?
However, would the F-35A, which experts also like to sneer at as a “flying computer”, really be a suitable successor to the German Tornado? Shouldn’t the Ministry of Defense rely more on a Eurofighter modified for “nuclear sharing” or, better yet, on the tried and tested F-18 Super Hornet? In an armaments project of this magnitude, the critics immediately speak up. With the F-35, opinions are particularly kindled by Lockheed Martin’s attempt not only to develop a combat aircraft for three different branches of the armed forces and their specific requirements, but also to replace a large number of older aircraft types for the tasks of air superiority (F-15), multipurpose (F-16), close air support (A-10), vertical take-off aircraft (AV-8B) as well as bomber and electronic warfare fighter (F/A-18). A project doomed to failure right from the start because of its complexity, but has now become too big and too expensive to let it fail? It is unusual that Lockheed Martin was allowed to produce a large number of “pre-production models” during the test and trial phase (so-called “Concurrency“) and to deliver them to the U.S. armed forces (as of July 2018: 305+ units) instead of starting production only after a small number of prototypes were ready for series production (“fly before you buy”).

Sobering Pentagon internal audit report on the F-35
The Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E – internal audit authority) in the US Department of Defense monitors compliance with the contractually stipulated technical and security-related requirements for weapon systems of all kinds for procurement measures by the U.S. Army. Its reports and assessments on the progress and current status of the F-35 project by the Joint Program Office (JPO) development department for the fiscal years 2016 and 2017 are – to put it mildly – very sobering. In the current audit report for 2017, DOT&E states that the operational suitability of the F-35 falls short of the requirements and does not yet meet the expectations of the armed forces. In some cases, missions could only be flown through technically unplanned workarounds. The procurement program is currently shipping F-35s with missing capabilities that are needed in the fight against current threats. The nationwide availability rate of the F-35 fleet has remained at an unacceptable 50% since October 2014, although more and more machines have been put into service since then. The technical reliability of delivered aircraft is also stagnating, so that an acceptable threshold for the average flight time until a critical error occurs can only be reached through completely reworking faulty aircraft components in the future.

JSF maintainer (photo: Chrissy Cuttita / U.S. Air Force [Public domain])

JSF maintainer (photo: Chrissy Cuttita / U.S. Air Force [Public domain])

In its report, DOT&E found a total of 301 serious (software) errors in areas such as target engagement, weapons integration, survivability, mission planning, cybersecurity, ALIS software, and maintainability. At least 88 of these are in “processing”, the remaining 213 errors remain unresolved for the time being. These serious deficiencies do not allow DOT&E to confirm the conditional or fundamental operational readiness necessary for the start of series production of the F-35. However, to be able to continue the construction of further F-35s that are not fully operational, the JPO now wants to officially complete the development phase and move into a “continuous capability development and delivery phase”. In its 2017 report, however, the internal audit department has serious concerns about this approach — probably also because a considerable number of F-35s with different equipment exist through simultaneous development, prototype tests, and pre-series production. The field test already mentioned for the start of series production will probably only be possible at the end of 2019. By then, however, more than 600 aircraft will have been built and delivered. These all have to be retrofitted later on, which in turn will result in considerable costs. The USAF had therefore already seriously considered not updating 108 fully paid F-35A pre-production models (so-called “Concurrency Orphans”), which has now been rejected.

Software is the F-35’s “Achilles’ heel”
The capabilities of the F-35 are determined on the one hand by its technical equipment and built-in electronics (including 31 PowerPC processors from IBM with 75,000 MIPS). On the other hand, the underlying software for control and operation is an essential capability feature. Individual development stages are grouped into blocks, which can also have subdivisions, depending on the military branch. Block 1 describes “first-hour” aircraft built for training and testing purposes. Block 2 is already provided with essential weapon functions, while Block 3F represents the current software version. The internal programming of the F-35 includes more than 8 million lines of code, more than four times as much as the F-22. Considering the general rule of thumb that, even with sensitive armaments orders, one programming error occurs per 1,000 lines of code, it is no surprise that the current software version, after the 31st update, is only declared as conditionally usable — more updates will follow for sure. Initially, the Block 3F software was even considered too unreliable for initial test flights.

The mission systems software blocks being developed for the program, the percentage of test points completed by block, and the build-up to full warfighting capability with Block 3F (Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office [Public domain]).

The mission systems software blocks being developed for the program, the percentage of test points completed by block, and the build-up to full warfighting capability with Block 3F (Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office [Public domain]).

More serious is the lack of mission data loads (MDL). They contain extensive information, e.g., about potential targets, enemy combat aircraft and other possible threats, such as air defense positions, each with its electronic and/or infrared signatures. The MDL has to be loaded into the F-35’s onboard computer before each mission and has to be updated after each mission. Without this MDL, the F-35 cannot find its targets or escape possible threats. Its stealth capability largely depends on the MDL to calculate optimal flight routes around enemy air defense and interceptors. A separate MDL with application-specific information must be created for each theatre of operations. A total of at least six such MDLs are needed for worldwide deployment and the completion of the test and trial phase. At least the first MDL for the upcoming series production readiness tests in the US should be completed in this year. Only one location in the US is currently capable of programming the MDL for all F-35s: the US Reprogramming Laboratory (USRL) at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. However, this “laboratory” needs 15 months for one MDL alone. Accordingly, the preparation of the required six MDLs would theoretically take seven and a half years. This does not include the necessary updates to the already existing MDLs. These updates are required because each time an F-35 is deployed, new information about existing or additional targets and threats is captured. Due to poor software and outdated or incomplete hardware, the USRL is not yet able to perform these updates. To be able to test the MDLs in detail, the USRL additionally requires special electronics, so-called threat emitters, which generate identical signals as the expected enemy interceptors, radar sites and anti-aircraft missiles in the potential combat zone. However, according to the DOT&E report, the USRL lacks the necessary number of emitters to create a sufficiently equipped electronic test environment that would even approximately correspond to the currently prevailing global threat scenarios.

Another major weakness of the F-35 project is the “Autonomic Logistics Information System” (ALIS), which remains the property of the manufacturer Lockheed Martin and is operated by them worldwide. ALIS is a complex computer system consisting of 65 individual programs with 16 million lines of code that continuously collects and analyzes aircraft data. It is used, among other things, for resource planning, threat analyses, maintenance diagnoses, and planning, and for ordering spare parts. All F-35s, including those from partner countries or buyers outside the US, must update their mission files and ALIS profiles before and after each flight. For this purpose, the data from each F-35 is downloaded, then it is first electronically sent to the ALIS mainframe in Fort Worth, Texas, which then forwards it to the USRL and Lockheed Martin. From there, the updated data on the mainframe will be transferred back to all F-35s, even overseas. If the Internet connection from the US to Europe, for example, is interrupted by cyber attacks on network nodes or sabotage to the underwater cables, the F-35s cut off from ALIS, e.g., in Great Britain, Italy, and Turkey, will remain on the ground until further notice (Giovanni de Briganti, “US Software Stranglehold Threatens F-35 Foreign Operations“, Defense-Aerospace.com, 11/04/2015). Data transmission via satellite is hardly possible due to the high data volume requirements of only one F-35 squadron, as tests on board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in August 2016 demonstrated. It took two whole days, among other things due to tactical radio silence, limited bandwidth, and poor satellite connections, to send a 200 MB ALIS file. It remains to be seen how these transmission problems will be solved in the future when stationing entire squadrons of F-35 “B”/”C” models on carriers and amphibious attack vehicles. The DOT&E called on the USN to further investigate this matter.

Portable maintenance device loaded with joint technical data and plugged into an F-35 (photo: Maj. Karen Roganov / U.S. Air Force [Public domain]).

Portable maintenance device loaded with joint technical data and plugged into an F-35 (photo: Maj. Karen Roganov / U.S. Air Force [Public domain]).

However, the DOT&E also points out further ALIS deficiencies in its audit report. After the last software update the USMC Air Station Yuma in Arizona had to stop all F-35 flight operations in June 2017, because, among other things, the engine data was not recorded properly. Besides, ALIS continuously reports false values about the need for maintenance or repair of components, which then lead to aircraft shutdowns, orders for unneeded spare parts and time-consuming but pointless technician deployments. Manual workarounds and interventions by ALIS administrators, which are now part of the daily maintenance routine for mechanics, are required for processes that should have been automated long ago. In earlier reports, the DOT&E also criticized the inadequate cybersecurity of the software and hardware against cyber attacks, which affect both ALIS and the F-35 themselves. These long-known weaknesses were not eliminated in the 2017 reporting year either. In view of current cyber threats, the auditor now recommends, for example, that ALIS be switched off entirely for the permitted period of up to 30 days during test flights, which, however, does not correspond in principle to the necessary interaction between ALIS and the F-35 in order to fly effective (combat) missions. Probably also for these reasons Israel has contractually stipulated the right, as already mentioned, to take over the maintenance of its F-35I Adir itself. Israel has a legitimate concern that an F-35 will become inoperable in the middle of a conflict because cyber attacks compromised ALIS. It remains an understandable secret whether Israel is staying outside the global network with ALIS or has installed its maintenance software.

However, ALIS is not only exposed to cyber threats on the internet, but some JSF partner countries also believe that it transmits too much operational data to the U.S. Army and the non-governmental manufacturer Lockheed Martin after each F-35 flight, thereby violating the sovereignty of the countries involved in the project. Italy, Norway, and Australia, for example, have therefore decided to limit the amount of sensitive software data that is to be transferred to the US via ALIS in the future. Besides, Italy and Norway are setting up a joint software laboratory in the US for programming country-specific mission files. The ALIS network also provides the US with active control over the F-35s stationed in partner countries by distributing updates and patches of both internal and external F-35 software. In the future, ALIS could also be used by the US as a “Trojan horse” to import malicious software into F-35s belonging to partner countries that may have become unpopular, and paralyze them on the software side.

The F-35I Adir (accompanied by an F-16I Sufa) on its debut flight in Israel, December 2016 (photo: Major Ofer / Israeli Air Force [CC BY 4.0])

The F-35I Adir (accompanied by an F-16I Sufa) on its debut flight in Israel, December 2016 (photo: Major Ofer / Israeli Air Force [CC BY 4.0])

The target acquisition and weapons systems function only to a limited extent
The Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) is based on the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod already developed for the F-16. An external container was done away with to preserve the stealth characteristics, and the EOTS was integrated into the lower fuselage of the F-35 in a sapphire glass pod in the front of the fuselage. Via the connection to the central computer and with the aid of a video and a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera as well as a distance/target illumination laser, it provides the target acquisition coordinates required for the onboard weapons during air and ground combat. The pilot has this data transferred directly to his helmet visor. A head-up display (HUD – windscreen projector) is no longer available in the F-35 cockpit. According to the 2016 DOT&E report, the test pilots unanimously stated that the integrated EOTS was less powerful than the externally mounted system on older 4th generation fighters. Opponents could not be detected and identified at a tactically reasonable distance, and the laser could not permanently marked targets during an engagement. Environmental influences, such as high humidity, would force pilots to fly closer to potential targets than would be militarily warranted. This strips the F-35 of the element of surprise, unnecessarily warning potential enemies, slowing down the firing process, and exposing the F-35 to additional threats in the target area. The 2017 DOT&E report further states that mobile ground targets cannot be adequately targeted with the EOTS. The pilots have to compensate technical deficits of the EOTS using “rule of thumb”, which is neither effective nor allowed under real combat conditions. Due to the electronics installed so far, these EOTS deficits will no longer be remedied by software improvements alone. It is therefore not surprising that manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced in September 2015 an “Advanced EOTS” with improved technology for the upcoming Block 4 models of the F-35, but this can only be installed after 2020.

Electro-optical target sensor (EOTS) on a mock-up of the F-35. Photo taken at RIAT 2007 (Source: Dammit, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Netherlands license)

Electro-optical target sensor (EOTS) on a mock-up of the F-35. Photo taken at RIAT 2007 (Source: Dammit, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Netherlands license)

The weapons systems don’t necessarily look any better. The F-35A is equipped with an internal, four-stroke 25mm Gatling gun for its intended close air support role. During the weapons tests in 2017, it turned out that it fired too far and also too far to the right. The onboard cannons carried in separate weapon containers on the “B” and “C” models also had hit inaccuracies, although not as striking as the “A” version. The bugs are not fixed in any version yet.

On the AIM-120 long-range air-to-air missile (behind the field of vision), the weapons tests revealed problems with the technical integration and control displays in the F-35, all of which are subject to secrecy. The published protocol of the weapons tests shows, however, that test firing of the AIM-120 AMRAAM failed entirely or partially or the evaluation of the results is still ongoing, whatever that may mean.

Weapons bay of a mock-up of the F-35. PPhoto taken at RIAT 2007 (Source: Dammit, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Netherlands license)

Weapons bay of a mock-up of the F-35. Photo taken at RIAT 2007 (Source: Dammit, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Netherlands license)

During the tests of the air and surface weapons, problems related to the EOTS were detected, which prevent the complete and successful passage of a “combat run”, consisting of finding, fixing, tracking, aiming, firing and evaluating. Thus make weapon employment more difficult, if not impossible. For example, the F-35 pilots were able to check the transmitted target data for precision-guided bombs (JDAM), but not the actual target data stored in the bomb. However, the rules of engagement in combat zones generally require that the pilot expressly confirm the correct target data stored in the precision weapon to the Forward Air Controller on the ground before the weapon is deployed.

The “DAS” warning system is technically outdated and struggles with production errors
A “Distributed Aperture System” (DAS) consisting of six infrared cameras distributed on the front fuselage is used to monitor the airspace around the F-35 (the picture below shows a DAS camera directly in front of the cockpit on the fuselage). The system provides the pilot with situational information using a spherical panoramic view projected on the helmet visor day and night, even when looking downwards through the fuselage of the F-35. This makes it even possible to navigate in complete darkness with the aid of an additional night vision camera mounted on the helmet. The DAS recognizes/detects/engages enemy air defense/radar sites, approaching enemy aircraft, gives the pilot in close air combat a permanent friend/foe distinction and independently initiates appropriate defense measures against recognized threats (infrared decoys, chaff, electronic interference/defense).

In 2017, damaged glass covers on the DAS cameras were one of the reasons why F-35 fighter jets were repeatedly classified by the USAF as not ready for use, while the USN and USMC considered them still fit for flight. During night landings, the pilots lost situational awareness in complete darkness (new moon, no starlight due to heavy cloud cover, no artificial light) due to the poor image/resolution quality of the installed infrared cameras. Safe operation or landing was no longer possible for the pilots using the external view transmitted from the DAS/helmet camera to the helmet visor.

F-35A front profile in flight. The doors are opened to expose the aerial refueling inlet valve (photo: MSgt John Nimmo Sr. [Public domain])

F-35A front profile in flight. The doors are opened to expose the aerial refueling inlet valve (photo: MSgt John Nimmo Sr. [Public domain])

Several further problems manifest themselves with the F-35. In addition to qualitative defects in production itself (faulty DAS glass covers, technically inadequate night vision camera, tires that wear too fast, insufficient corrosion protection, mechanically unstable tank probe), due to the overlong testing phase and pre-series production, the currently installed DAS has been in use for more than 10 years and is now considered technically obsolete, similar to the EOTS mentioned above. Lockheed Martin announced in June 2018 that they would install a significantly improved, more powerful and cheaper Raytheon DAS from 2023 onwards. However, since series production is likely to have already started by then, the F-35 will be used by the U.S. Forces in significantly different hardware and software configurations from the 2020s onwards, including the installation of the improved EOTS and DAS. In light of the errors that have occurred so far cast doubt on whether the new electronic components can also be seamlessly integrated into the F-35 without additional technical and software-specific problems. In any case, an exchange of old and new generation electronic components will be tough, if not impossible, due to the different software versions within the F-35 fleet.

VSI Helmet-mounted display system for the F-35 [Public domain]

VSI Helmet-mounted display system for the F-35 [Public domain]

Operational experience with the F-35 paints an entirely different picture
Regulatory and supervisory authorities in general, but also some of the harshest critics in particular, must be able to be argued against making “armchair” judgments on the basis of comprehensive test protocols, without having gained their own experience with the subject of their examination or criticism. In 2016, Major Morten Hanche, head of the F-35 test/evaluation department of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, published several interesting blog posts about his experiences as a former F-16 and now current F-35 pilot, which lack the usual, either exaggerated positive or negative comments (see “Bibliography”). Based on his own experiences with the F-35A, he thinks that the mostly negative interpretations of the DOT&E reports by the media are exaggerated because they would be entirely based on unrealistic expectations. For him, an imperfect F-35 was not the end of the world. He thinks that compromises always have to be made, especially in the development and testing of such a highly complex aircraft as the F-35. For almost every error that occurs, there is either a workaround under operating conditions or one learns to live with it in everyday mission life. The F-35 works well, even if it doesn’t (yet) meet all the specifications. He is impressed by the F-35, especially regarding speed, service ceiling, range and maneuverability, because unlike other shortcomings, these characteristics could not simply be improved by software updates in the future. Compared to the F/A-18 Hornet one feels as if they’re “flying with four engines”. He could also confirm the stealth capabilities of the F-35, which in contrast to the F-16 could not be located from a distance. A comparison with fully developed 4th generation fighters is not appropriate because they already had a 40-year development and improvement phase behind them even to reach their current level of performance, a “maturity period” that the F-35 currently lacks. The F-16 was continuously plagued by errors and deficits when it was introduced in the 1970s, but it can still be regarded as one of the most effective fighters. Even today, the Norwegian Air Force’s more modern F-16s would struggle with avionics, software and logistics deficiencies that cannot be rectified because it has not yet been possible to determine their cause or do not want to eliminate known problems because of a low-cost/benefit ratio. The F-35 exceeded the expectations placed on it in use and also had a high probability of “surviving” combat missions in an emergency, in contrast to 4th generation fighters, like the F-16.

Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Operations Group deputy commander, puts on her helmet before taking her first flight in the F-35A on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., May 5, 2015. Mau, who previously flew F-15E Strike Eagles, made history as the first female F-35 pilot in the program (photo: Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson / U.S. Air Force)

Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Operations Group deputy commander, puts on her helmet before taking her first flight in the F-35A on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., May 5, 2015. Mau, who previously flew F-15E Strike Eagles, made history as the first female F-35 pilot in the program (photo: Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson / U.S. Air Force)

Is the F-35 the right plane for the German Air Force?
Every major defense project in military aircraft construction has had to struggle with technical issues, long delays, significant budget overruns, and harsh public criticism, be it the F-15, F-16, F/A-18 on the American side or the Tornado, A-400 or Eurofighter on the European side. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a highly complex weapon system like the F-35 is not any different. When the F/A-18 was introduced to the USN, it lacked the range, and payload of the A-7 Corsair as well as the acceleration and climb rate of the F-4 Phantom. Today the F/A-18 is the backbone of the USN. If one reads the last DOT&E report from 2017 “between the lines”, even with a very pessimistic prognosis it can be assumed that the F-35 will not only have reached the final production stage by 2025 at the latest, but – thanks to the exchange of entire (electronic) assemblies and further software updates – will also have left a large part of its technical problems behind. Then the US has a 21st Century fighter that turns digital and networked warfare from a buzzword to reality. The F-35 is also the ideal operational platform for control and surveillance given the increased use of (lethal) autonomous weapon systems in combination with manned combat jets. Of course, it is not completely invisible (“stealth”), but probably more difficult to locate (“stealthy”) for integrated Russian air defense than an F/A-18 or a modernized Eurofighter.

As a multi-purpose fighter, the F-35 will have to make compromises in the individual tasks of close air support, superiority, and attack, but this is nothing new since the Tornado. After all, the price for the F-35 will have fallen to under $80 million (US) by 2025, which is indeed not a “bargain”, but still much cheaper than the current $95 million (US) price tag. Since many European NATO states have also acquired or intend to acquire the F-35, a partial harmonization of used military equipment would be recorded for the first time in a long time — at least in the field of NATO air forces and, however, at the expense of Europe’s desired independence from the USA when it comes to defense.

As always with large armament projects, there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer for the procurement of such an expensive, technically complex weapons system. With its decision on this issue, Germany will not want to offend either the US or France in foreign or military policy terms, since they are both important allies within NATO and the EU. France had already announced that when Germany bought the F-35, it would immediately stop planning the future common European fighter aircraft. On the other hand, the planned 5th/6th generation German-French fighter jet would probably reach its operational readiness far too late to replace the Luftwaffe Tornadoes in time by 2025. In turn, the US could postpone the Eurofighter’s nuclear participation clearance for 7-10 years to urge Germany to buy the F-35A, for good reason because even a modified Eurofighter would not be a suitable carrier for American nuclear bombs, as it is not up to the task of facing the modern Russian S-400/S-500 air defense systems. However, the same problem exists with the Tornado. So would it be best to entirely drop nuclear sharing with the USA and build a joint fighter jet with France, which would then carry French atomic bombs to the target for Germany? A variant which, given the European or German dependence on the US nuclear shield, is rather unlikely to provide a credible nuclear deterrent in Europe.

U.S. Government [Public domain]

U.S. Government [Public domain]

Then is it better to follow the example of the British, Danes, Norwegians, Dutch, and Italians in Europe and buy a technically (not yet) mature F-35, which also comes with high follow-up costs for maintenance and flight operations? Or perhaps instead of a “Solomonic solution” where Germany procures the American F/A-18 Super Hornet for an estimated transition period of about 15 to 20 years until the planned German-French fighter aircraft is ready for production/operation? Indeed not a politically simple decision that the Defense Ministry will have to make soon.

The F-35 is probably not a disaster regarding arms policy, even if it has not yet been able to meet all the expectations placed on it. It is expensive, but a (nearly) ready-to-use stealth multi-purpose 5th generation combat aircraft which should have left its “teething troubles” behind by 2025 and could then provide the Luftwaffe with considerable military added value. For my part, I have to admit that my heart beats more transatlantically for the F-35 than pan-European for a modified Eurofighter or the Future Combat Air System.

Additional Information


Posted in Armed Forces, International, Roger Näbig, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clarification: China has yet to build an Underground Facility at Gonggar

Satellite Imagery acquired on 03OCT2018 by Planet Labs

New infrastructure upgrades were completed at Lhasa-Gonggar earlier this year, satellite imagery from Planet Labs shows. Workers at the civil-military airfield widened a road and built an additional parking apron near the base of the mountain.

Earlier this month, India’s Hindustan Times reported that China had built an underground facility to house fighter aircraft at the airport. Quoting three unnamed officials, the report said that an underground hangar was large enough to hold up to 36 aircraft.

That assertion however is inaccurate. Imagery shows the new parking apron with markings indicative of parking positions for up to thirty-six aircraft, but does not show activity to tunnel into the mountain to create a hardened hangar. To date aircraft have not relocated to the apron nor have any additional aircraft deployed to the airbase as a result.

The new apron was constructed between October 2017 and July 2018 and is the second to be added to the airfield since the Doklam crisis erupted last year. The first, measuring approximately 24,000 square meters, was built adjacent to the existing military ramp during the height of the standoff.

Given the July completion date, the release of the information through the Hindustan Times suggests a Government of India strategic communication effort. The need to show ongoing concern over a recent flash point comes amidst New Delhi’s announcement to acquire the S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.  Commentary surrounding India’s request for a U.S. waiver—avoiding the 2017 sanctions (CAATSA) against Russia—have featured prominently in India’s press.

India plans to acquire up to five S-400 regiment, each comprised of two batteries with each battery equipped with four launcher and associated support equipment. Estimated at $6 billion, the air defense deal has been in negotiation for several years. If completed, India would become the second foreign operator of the advanced SAM system after China. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force took delivery of their first regiment in April 2018.

Bottom Line
Despite expanding defense ties between India and the U.S., it is still unknown what the Trump administration will decide regarding India’s waiver request. This latest strategic communication effort is likely indicative of New Delhi’s uncertainty.

Posted in China, English, General Knowledge, India, Intelligence, Russia | Leave a comment

Iran: New SAM Site At Masshad

Digitalglobe imagery acquired on 05SEPT2018

Digitalglobe imagery acquired on 05SEPT2018

Satellite imagery shows some new developments at Iran’s Masshad civil-military airfield. A new surface to air missile (SAM) site has been constructed on the north side of the runway to support Khatam al-Anbia’s S-300PMU-2 deployments. Between 2017-2018, Iran jumped the S-300 system to the airbase on three occasions which have coincided with visits by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The first deployment occurred between June and July 2017 when the Supreme Leader was speaking to the Iranian Judiciary in the city. The second deployment took place between March and April 2018 when Khamenei addressed the Assembly of Experts during Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. And the most recent deployment occurred between July and August 2018 when the Ayatollah attended the ritual ceremony of clearing dust from the tomb of Imam Ridha.

Components observed typically include two 5P85TE2 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL), a 30N6E2 (Tomb Stone) target engagement radar, and the 96L6E target acquisition radar. All components were visible at the airbase except during July 2017 when the 96L6E did not deploy. On all three deployments, the system components relocated from their position at the Tehran-Mehrabad International Airport located in western Tehran. Handheld video suggests they were transported via highway.

In addition to Mehrabad, Iran’s other active S-300PMU-2 sites are located at Bushehr, Khavar Shahr, and Esfahan. A full-strength Iranian battery is comprised of four TELs. Masshad, located in the northeast, is approximately 75 kilometers (km) and 170 km from the borders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, respectively. The S-300PMU-2 has an engagement range of 200 km.

Bottom Line
The new construction activity suggests that Iran will continue with deploying the system out to the airbase. The current pad configuration suggests that it will maintain the less than full strength deployment.

Posted in English, Intelligence, Iran | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New Infrastructure at the UAE’s al-Hamra Military Airfield

Imagery acquired by Planet Labs on 23 Sept 2018.

al-Hamra Airport (Imagery acquired by Planet Labs on 23 Sept 2018).

The UAE has added eight new aircraft shelters and a weapon storage area to a reserve airfield on the coast, commercial satellite imagery shows. The activity suggests that the UAE may maintain a detachment at the reserve airfield to rapidly respond to potential threats. Assets routinely deployed at al-Hamra include the AH-64 Apache and the UH-60 Black Hawk. The location and other nearby facilities are frequently used for military exercises.

The airfield—located less than 100 km from the Qatar border—sits between some significant civilian infrastructure. To the east lies the Shuweihat power complex featuring three combined cycle power plants with co-located desalination. The three plants have a nameplate capacity of 4,520 megawatts. Adjacent to the power plants is the Ruweis Refinery complex operated by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). ADNOC plans to expand refinery operations and petrochemical production over the next five years with an additional $45 billion investment. Ruweis features the country’s single largest refinery.

To the west of the airfield is the $20 billion four unit Barakah nuclear power plant. Just last year, South Korean workers completed Unit 1 and reported that fuel would be loaded into the reactor, pending regulatory approval. In August 2018, Unit 2 went through hot functional tests that simulate the temperatures and pressures that the reactor will experience during normal operation. When the first reactor goes online in 2019, the UAE will become the region’s second consumer of nuclear energy after Iran.

These developments continue to put high value on coastal protection, as perhaps exemplified by the recent deployment activity. In 2007, the UAE stood up a little known agency, the Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority, whose mission is to anticipate and guard against threats to high value infrastructure. The agency routinely works with other government authorities and the armed forces to accomplish its mission.

With the UAE’s ongoing involvement in hostilities in Yemen, external threats to the Gulf country, particularly to soft targets, remain a concern. Since December 2017, Houthi rebels have communicated their intent to target the country in strikes. The most recent threat was made in August when UAE forces moved on the port city of Hudaida.

Bottom Line
As the UAE comes under increasing external threat, bolstering military elements on the border and near significant infrastructure will likely continue.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, Security Policy, UAE | Leave a comment

EUTM Mali’s problematic strategy – more rebuilding rather than fielding an army

by Björn Müller (Facebook / Twitter). Björn is journalist in Berlin focusing on security policy and geopolitics.

Comparing weapons: A German EUTM soldier and a recruit of the FAMA special forces during a training lesson near camp Koulikoro, Mali (photo: Bjoern Mueller / all rights reserved).

Comparing weapons: A German EUTM soldier and a recruit of the FAMA special forces during a training lesson near camp Koulikoro, Mali (photo: Bjoern Mueller / all rights reserved).

The European Union’s effort to beef up Mali’s armed forces (Forces armées et de sécurité du Mali, FAMA) since 2013 is in its fourth mandate. Germany, one of the primary nations in this military training mission, has prolonged the engagement of its armed forces — the Bundeswehr — in the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) Mali until the end of May 2019.

EUTM Mali’s broad goal is “to contribute to the training of the Malian Armed Forces“. In 2012, Mali’s armed forces were unable to deal with insurgent Tuaregs and Islamists due to a combination of bad leadership, inept tactics and insufficient material. Whole units either fled or were massacred. As a result, younger officers became frustrated and revolted against the military brass and the government. The chain of command broke up and the army imploded. Only a military intervention by France (Operation Serval) prevented the Islamists from breaking into the capital Bamako. In the summer of 2013, a new government was elected. A rather unstable peace process with the Tuareg rebels is now underway. The state’s lack of monopoly on the use of force means that more and more self-defense militias are emerging across the country, and the fight against jihadists is uspcaling from North to Middle Mali. In this unsecure environment FAMA is once again trying to gain a foothold in the country.

Mali’s military reform plan
The scheme is therefore ambitious. Mali’s government implemented a special law for the FAMA’s buildup in 2015. It aims to double the size of the regular army from 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers by 2019. By then, the army should have a proper command structure and be capable of fighting its enemies by itself. The buildup plan also envisions an 850-man strong bataillon for peace operations. The whole is accompanied by an extensive procurement plan. Key investments include $326 million for combat vehicles, $163 million for refitting the equipment of maintenance and logistic units and $60 million for a squadron (6 planes) of A-29 Super Tucano light attack planes as well as the training of its pilots by the Brazilian A-29 manufacturer Embraer.

The FAMA shows better standing in fights
FAMA is still far from its high expectation of being able to independently lead the asymmetric war against jihadists and insurgents in its own country. The goals for 2019 are therefore unrealistic. Nevertheless, according to European military officers and experts, there are small advances at the tactical level. As stated by Italian EUTM instructors for close air support (CAS), Malian special forces conducted their first standalone CAS operation against Jihadists in the North with a Mil Mi-24D helicopter.

Lieutnant-Colonel Thomas Gottsche, the commander of the previous EUTM Bundeswehr contingent remarked that a paratroop platoon, which was in EUTM training before, did a good job during a combat deployment in North Mali: “One could see that the individual shooters do good cover work and the group leaders lead their men well.” According to Laurent Touchard, an expert on African armies, since 2015 the FAMA units show a better standing in combat, for example in preventing a night attack on the city of Boni.

Very motivated young FAMA soldiers (photo: Bjoern Mueller / all rights reserved).

Very motivated young FAMA soldiers (photo: Bjoern Mueller / all rights reserved).

EUTM training concept
The EUTM tactical training concept works as follows: On the one hand, the EUTM provides specialized knowledge, like sniper training, in its central training camp at Koulikoro near the capital Bamako. On the other hand, trainers from various EU armies travel to the locations of FAMA’s main military formations — which consist of eight battalions of about 600 men each — to train officers, NCOs and soldiers for a two-week period. Then the Malian officers and NCOs train their soldiers themselves, coached by the EUTM instructors. EUTM’s focus is on “train the trainers”.

“The challenge is to make Western leadership principles, such as independent thinking and acting among soldiers, effective in Mali’s army. Here they often have a very rigid pattern, where each step is dictated by the supervisor,” explained Colonel Busch, former Deputy Commander of the EUTM Mali. With its leadership training the EU hopes for a multiplier effect for implementing modern army structures within the FAMA. This tactical approach is supported by the EUTM advisory task force, working with the Malian general staff at the institutional level, for example, by helping to implement a modern EDP system to manage FAMA’s human resources.

EUTM Mali’s shortcomings
Unfortunatelly, the EU concept has its weaknesses. For example, there are no large-scale joint maneuvers under EUTM guidance and support despite of the importance of joint operations for a small force like the FAMA in a country of the size bigger than Central Europe. German soldiers at EUTM also point to the very poor equipment the Malians have as well as lack of ammunition. Material aid from the Europeans does not include weaponry. Even after years of cooperation, the EUTM does not know how the Malian army conducted their training before the EUTM trainers took over. In addition, there is currently no monitoring of the training’s success. The EUTM mandates does not foresee European instructors accompanying EUTM-trained FAMA units in operations. Mali’s armed forces inform their EU partners only at irregular meetings about their combat experiences — based, of course, on their own assessments.

German paramedics are responsible for keeping the camp free of venomous snakes (photo: Bjoern Mueller / all rights reserved).

German paramedics are responsible for keeping the camp free of venomous snakes (photo: Bjoern Mueller / all rights reserved).

The EUTM strategy and its hurdles
Despite these shortcomings, the EU has no intention to develop the EUTM concept in the direction of combat. The master plan for the fourth mandate is a de-facto attempt to strengthen FAMA’s inner constitution. Permanent European trainers are installed at Mali officers‘ and NCOs‘ schools to develop their leadership training. According to the German MoD courses are under preparation.

Instead of arming Mali’s campaign against asymmetric enemies, the EU is trying to strengthen FAMA’s backbone by funding the renovation of military infrastructure such as airbases. The Germans are planing to push their EUTM resources into the training of logistic specialists, mechanics and lorry drivers.

So far, it is unclear wether the EU strategy will succeed. Since 2013, there have been cases of unrest and rebellion within FAMA units during their EUTM training, such as soldiers ignoring instructions or boycotting graduation ceremonies. This is mainly due to the mistrust of the soldiers against their officers – for example, because of assumed wage deductions. Other issues include EU’s unsuccessful pushing for the development of a clear military doctrine for the “new FAMA”. According to a diplomat in Bamako, the army is divided into supporters and opponents on the crucial question of reintegrating Tuareg deserters from 2012 into FAMA, an important obligation of the peace process. Moreover, not all military circles in Mali consider the increasing European interference in their defense institutions a good idea. “Not everyone in Mali’s forces is excited about it. There are a few officers, who think there is too much EUTM in Mali’s forces. National pride probably plays a role here. Here we still have some convincing to do,” explained Colonel Busch.

Moreover, there is little coordination between the European approach, which focuses on FAMA’s reform, and additional US approaches. “With EUTM providing support at the tactical level, the US deemed that it would be best to apply our security cooperation efforts at the institutional level”, told the US Africa Command (US AFRICOM) to the author. Accordingly, the Americans took only a seleceted class of ten Malian officers under their wing, currently educated at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. “These officers, upon graduation, will become core members of a Malian National Security Staff, and they will be instrumental in developing Mali’s future National Security Strategy as well other accompanying doctrinal documents,” US AFRICOM said.

With the intensification of the fight against jihadists and insurgents in Mali and the Sahel, the EUTM mandate will be crucial in determining whether the EUTM’s focus on shaping the FAMA into a modern defensive institution rather than forming an army for the battlefield is a solid strategy.

"Ghost city" - an abandoned village near of camp Koulikoro - used by EUTM for urban warfare training. The former residents left the village for alleged occupation by ghosts of dead (photo: Bjoern Mueller / all rights reserved).

“Ghost city” – an abandoned village near of camp Koulikoro – used by EUTM for urban warfare training. The former residents left the village for alleged occupation by ghosts of dead (photo: Bjoern Mueller / all rights reserved).

Posted in Armed Forces, Björn Müller, English, International, Mali, Peacekeeping, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indonesia Submarine Quay and Pier Damaged During Tsunami

Left: Planet imagery of the naval base in Palu Bay dated 29 Sept. 2018 / Right: 22 Sept. 2018

Satellite imagery acquired by Planet Labs shows significant damage to a recently renovated naval base in Palu Bay. Plans to berth the Indonesian Navy’s submarines at the facility will be delayed until workers make repairs and clear underwater debris. While the pier that was recently expanded remains intact, the quay wall and environmental shelter covering the submarine berthing area have been destroyed. On 28 September 2018 waves from a tsunami struck the naval base overtopping the quay wall where enough pressure was created to loosen the backfill and overturn the structure forcing it away from shore and into the water. As a result, the majority of the wall is submerged and no longer visible. Other structures near the shore also appear damaged on Planet’s 3 meter imagery.

To date, Indonesian authorities report that more than 1,500 people have been killed and over 100,000 others displaced by the natural disaster.  More than 70,000 homes were destroyed or damaged after a 7.5 magnitude earthquake launched waves of up to six-meters high that slammed into Sulawesi at approximately 500 miles per hour.

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UAV Infrastructure Noted at the UAE’s al-Safran Airbase

Planet imagery acquired on 04 January 2018 of al-Safran airbase.

Planet imagery acquired on 04 January 2018 of al-Safran airbase.

Two US-built primary satellite links and a ground control station (GCS) were relocated to the UAE’s al-Safran airbase situated south of Madinat Zayed, imagery from Planet Labs shows. They likely belong to the recently acquired RQ-1E Predator-XP UAV the country purchased in 2013. The Predator XP is the unarmed licensed export variant of the General Atomics Predator series. A GCS and a primary satellite link were observed at the airbase by December 2017. We are currently unaware of the U.S. operating additional UAVs in the UAE outside of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks at Al Dhafra.

Imagery acquired in March also shows some additional construction activity nearby of what appear to be the footprint of four towers at the airbase. Similar towers have been erected at locations that support U.S.-made drones to enhance line of sight communication. These towers may suggest that the Predator XP could be relocated to the airbase on an ongoing basis. Initial clearing and leveling activity was noted in January 2018 after an expansion of the main parking apron and the erection of six new aircraft shelters in 2017.

The Predator XP is equipped with multiple sensor systems including EO/IR cameras and a multi-mode synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) for day/night and wide area search operation. To locate moving vehicles, the platform has ground moving target indicator (GMTI) and can identify vessels at sea with automatic identification system (AIS). They are designed for automatic takeoff and landing, have an endurance of 35 hours, and can fly up to 25,000 feet (more than 7,500 km).

Recently, it was revealed that the UAE likely took delivery of the AVIC Wing Loong II UAV at Qusahwirah, making the Middle Eastern country the platform’s first export customer. Qusahwirah appears to be dedicated to UAV operations. The airbase is in the process of being expanded with additional aircraft shelters and weapon storage areas for the strike-capable aircraft. It’s possible the Predator XP are being relocated to al-Safran due to their delivery.

The Predator XP was first observed in operation by the UAE public earlier this year at the Unmanned Systems Exhibition 2018. The “live-fly” portion of the event took place on February 27, 2018 out at Al Ain International Airport. The flight took place almost a year after the UAE took delivery of the General Atomics aircraft in a reported USD 198 million deal.

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