McConnell Calls for US to Arm Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The US Senate’s top Republican on Thursday said America should send weapons to the Ukrainian military as that country teeters on the brink of war with Russia.

Russian forces continue to occupy Crimea in southern Ukraine, which Russia claims to have annexed. And pro-Russian forces and activists are stirring unrest in eastern Ukraine, which also is home to a large ethnic Russian population.

US officials and analysts say Moscow is behind the activity in eastern Ukraine with the aim of creating a scenario under which its forces would be sent to “protect” ethnic Russians. Moscow denies those charges.

The Obama administration has slapped economic sanctions on some individuals said to be capable of influencing Russian President Vladimir Putin. But European leaders have been reluctant to go further, and because Europe’s economy is more intertwined with Moscow’s, experts say the European Union’s help is essential to persuading Putin to stand down.

US officials say their options are limited, and so far have declined to send lethal weapons to Ukraine’s military out of fears of stoking an all-out war.

But Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says that should change — even amid reports of a deal between US, Ukrainian and Russian leaders to begin de-escalating the situation.

“Here is what I would do: I would be sending arms to the Ukrainian Army,” McConnell said Thursday during an interview with a Mt. Sterling, Ky., radio station. “I would encourage the European Union to expand and take in Ukraine … I would provide serious assistance to the Ukrainians so that they could defend themselves.”

McConnell wouldn’t stop there. He echoed other GOP lawmakers in saying Russia’s invasion of Crimea and alleged actions in eastern Ukraine show President Barack Obama’s decision to reverse his predecessor’s missile defense plans in Europe was a mistake.

“I would renew the discussions that the president just dropped, the idea of missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland at the beginning of his term as a sort of gesture to the Russians,” McConnell said.

“I would re-engage with the Poles and the Czechs and see if we can’t get missile defense back in those countries. All of those steps would indicate without sending in a single American soldier that the US is serious in standing up to this kind of new form of Russian aggression.”

McConnell’s arms-to-Ukraine plan and call to erect the missile shield in Europe would, if enacted, be a boon for the American defense sector, which says it has been damaged by across-the-board budget cuts.

McConnell, a leading congressional critic of Obama who is locked in a tough re-election fight, blamed the US commander in chief for enabling Russia’s aggression.

“You are hard pressed to name a single place in the world where we are in better shape now than we were when he came to office,” McConnell said. “When you think of Syria, you think of the endless discussions with Iran. And so you got Vladimir Putin sitting there looking at that, a guy who believes that the breakup of the Soviet Union was the single biggest disaster, geopolitical disaster, of the previous century, who yearns to restore the empire, and he looks at American leadership and concludes that they won’t do anything.”

Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was a senior US national security official under President George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, wrote Wednesday that “Putin can be expected to continue to interfere in Ukraine for as long as he can — and so long as it serves his aim of strengthening his grip on power at home.

That means, Haas said, “Western policy should seek to frustrate this strategy.”

He says the US and its Western allies have options, but he did not call for American arms shipments to Kiev’s military.

Those options include strengthening Ukraine politically and economically, Haas contends. Washington and its partners also should implement new, tougher sanctions on Moscow that “target Russian financial institutions and limit what may be exported to Russia, and the US and EU should communicate their agreement on such sanctions to Putin, so that he understands the full price he will pay for destabilizing Ukraine.”

Haas also wrote that Putin’s actions should be a “wake-up call for NATO.”

“People and governments need to rid themselves of the comforting illusion that countries’ use of military force to acquire territory is an anachronism,” he wrote. “European defense spending and capacity needs to increase, as does America’s presence in select NATO countries, something that can be achieved even as the US increases its presence in Asia.”

DefenseNews

Turkey dispatches AWACS to monitor Crimea

Turkish Air Forces has sent an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to fly over the Black Sea region to monitor the situation developing in Crimea, TR Defense sources confirmed on Wednesday.

Turkey’s Boeing 737-based AEW&C aircraft is currently the closest airborne NATO asset watching Crimea’s airspace.

The aircraft boasts an advanced Northrop Grumman-made AESA radar and has a cruise range of over 6,000 kilometeres. The range of the radar has been reported to be 380 kilometers.

On Monday, NATO also approved reconnaissance flights by other alliance AWACS aircraft over Poland and Romania to monitor the situation from the north west.

 

Is Ukraine’s Military Splitting in Two?

ukraine-2010-presidential-electionMuch has been made about the presence of Russian troops —including what appear to be special forces units— in southern Ukraine. But peace and stability in the region are not threatened only by the actions of foreign troops; they are also threatened by the attitude of the armed forces of Ukraine, whose stance is likely to determine the outcome of the current crisis. The government of Ukraine has called all military reservists in the country to mobilize in order to “ensure the security and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. But what guarantee is there that the Ukrainian armed forces will remain united while the country is splitting in two —or three, counting the Tatars? At least 20 percent of Ukraine’s citizens consider themselves ethnically Russian, and there is little reason to believe that the ranks of the Ukrainian military, which reflect the ethnic makeup of the country’s divided population, will prove immune to rapidly intensifying sectarian tensions. Already Russian news outlets report that “the majority” of Ukrainian armed forces personnel stationed in Crimea have “switched to the side of local authorities” of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The secessionist government’s Deputy Prime Minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, said on Sunday that the Ukrainian armed forces in the breakaway region “have all but surrendered” and that many “are expected to take military oath soon”, declaring their allegiance to the Crimean Republic. Presumably these are ethnic Russians who are abandoning the Ukrainian military and joining that of the secessionist movement in Crimea out of nationalist allegiance.

On Sunday afternoon, news agencies reported that Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, who was appointed head of Ukraine’s Navy on Friday, had voluntarily defected to the ethnic Russian side. Russian media aired video footage of Berezovsky pledging his allegiance “to the people of Crimea”.  The Admiral’s defection, which occurred on only his second day on the job as commander of the Ukrainian Navy, prompted Crimea’s secessionist Prime Minster, Sergey Aksyonov, to announce the official creation of “Crimea’s Navy”, consisting of ships that have defected from Ukraine. One such ship appears to be the Hetman Sahaidachny, a frigate that was until recently in the Gulf of Aden, participating in a Western-led counter-piracy operation. On Sunday, as the frigate was returning to the Black Sea, its captain, Rear Admiral Andrey Tarasov, announced his intentions to disobey all orders from Kiev, while submitting himself to the authority of the Crimean government.

Gangs of rival protesters clashing in the streets of Kiev, Kharkov, and other Ukrainian cities, with stones and baseball bats is one thing. But if the Ukrainian armed forces split along ethnic lines, then civil war will become unavoidable. Under such a scenario, Russian and the West will in all likelihood be unable to prevent an armed conflict that will irreparably undermine the collective security of the entire Eurasian region.

Joseph Fitsanakis

Russia issues ultimatum to Ukraine: Surrender

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has told Ukrainian forces in Crimea to surrender by 5 a.m. on Tuesday or face a military assault, Interfax news agency quoted a source in the Ukrainian Defence Ministry as saying.

The ultimatum, Interfax said, was issued by Alexander Vitko, the fleet’s commander.

The ministry did not immediately confirm the report and there was no immediate comment by the Black Sea Fleet, which has a base in Crimea, where Russian forces are in control.

“If they do not surrender before 5 a.m. tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea,” the agency quoted the ministry source as  saying.

Troops take Crimea terminal 

Pro-Russian troops controlled a ferry terminal on the easternmost tip of Ukraine’s Crimea region close to Russia on March 3, intensifying fears that Moscow will send even more troops into the strategic Black Sea region in its tense dispute with its neighbor.

The seizure of the terminal in the Ukrainian city of Kerch about 20 kilometers by boat to Russia, comes as the U.S. and European governments try to figure out ways to halt and reverse the Russian incursion.

Early on March 3, soldiers were operating the terminal, which serves as a common departure point for many Russian-bound ships. The men refused to identify themselves, but they reportedly spoke Russian and the vehicles transporting them had Russian license plates.

Russia has taken effective control of the Crimean peninsula without firing a shot. Now, the fears in the Ukrainian capital and beyond are that that Russia might seek to expand its control by seizing other parts of eastern Ukraine. Senior Obama administration officials said the U.S. now believes that Russia has complete operational control of Crimea, a pro-Russian area of the country, and has more than 6,000 troops in the region.

Tension between Ukraine and Moscow rose sharply after Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed out by a protest movement among people who wanted closer ties with the European Union. Yanukovych fled to Russia after more than 80 demonstrators were killed near Kiev’s central square. Since then, troops that Ukraine says are Russian soldiers have moved into Crimea, patrolling airport, smashing equipment at an airbase and besieging Ukrainian military installations.

Outrage over Russia’s military moves mounted in world capitals, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling on President Vladimir Putin to pull back from “an incredible act of aggression.” Kerry is to travel to Ukraine on March 4.

Britain’s Hague meets with Yatsenyuk

Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague met with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and laid a bouquet of flowers on Kiev’s Independence Square where the slain demonstrators are being commemorated. Hague said it was urgent to get Russia and Ukraine “in direct communication with each other.”

Hague said on the BBC that Moscow would face “significant costs” for taking control of Crimea.

“If Russia continues on this course we have to be clear this is not an acceptable way to conduct international relations. That is something that Russia has to recognize … There will certainly be significant costs,” Hague said. “There are things that we can do about it and must do about it.”

He suggested economic sanctions were possible. “The world cannot just allow this to happen,” he said.

Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and those of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.

While much of western Ukraine wants closer ties with the 28-nation European Union, its eastern and southern regions like Crimea look to Russia for support.

Faced with the Russian threat, Ukraine’s new government has moved to consolidate its authority, naming new regional governors in the pro-Russia east, enlisting the support of the country’s wealthy businessmen and dismissing the head of the country’s navy after he declared allegiance to the pro-Russian government in Crimea.

Emergency meeting in Brussels

NATO held an emergency meeting in Brussels and the U.S., France and Britain debated the possibility of boycotting the next Group of Eight economic summit, to be held in June in Sochi, the host of Russia’s successful Winter Olympics.

On March 3 evening, the White House issued a joint statement on behalf of the Group of Seven saying they are suspending participation in the planning for the upcoming summit because Russia’s advances in the Ukraine violate the “principles and values” on which the G-7 and G-8 operate.

Russia has long wanted to reclaim the lush Crimean Peninsula, part of its territory until 1954. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet pays Ukraine millions annually to be stationed at the Crimean port of Sevastopol and nearly 60 percent of Crimea’s residents identify themselves as Russian.

HDN

Turkey weighs NATO access to Black Sea

Reports are surfacing at several sources that China may have been able to convince Turkey not to grant permission for NATO ships to pass through the Bosphorus to reach the Black Sea. Although details of the exact Chinese argument to Turkish authorities still remain elusive, a delegation of key Chinese diplomats is said to be involved.

China and Turkey are yet to officially confirm or deny the allegations.

According to Chinese diplomatic sources, China will readily veto and decision by the UN Security Council against Russia regarding the developments in Ukraine following a UK call for an emergency UNSC meeting.

Turkey’s Power Over The Straights

The Montreux Convention regarding the regime of the straights is a 1936 international agreement that gives Turkey control over the Bosphorus Straights and the Dardanelles, and regulates the transit of naval warhips. The convention gives Turkey full control over the straights and guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime while restricting passage of naval ships not belonging to Black Sea states. The terms of the convention have been a source of controversy over the years, most notably concerning the Soviet Union’s military access to the Mediterranean Sea.

Signed on 20 July 1936, it permitted Turkey to remilitarize the straights. In went into effect on 9 November 1936 and was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on 11 December 1936. it is still in force today with some amendments.

A controversial project named Kanal istanbul attempts to create a secondary, artificial canal that will be parallel to the Bosphorus and also connect the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. It may be a possible by pass to the Montreux Contention and allow greater Turkish autonomy with respect to the passage of military ships.

Turkish, US Military Inspectors to Fly Over Russia

 

Experts from Turkey and the United States will make a surveillance flight above the territory of Russia on board a specially fitted Turkish CN-235 plane.
Experts from Turkey and the United States will make a surveillance flight above the territory of Russia on board a specially fitted Turkish CN-235 plane.

Military inspectors from Turkey and the United States will fly over Russia’s territory starting from Monday as part of the international Open Skies Treaty, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

“In the period between July 22 and July 26, experts from Turkey and the United States will make a surveillance flight above the territory of Russia on board Turkey’s CN-235 plane,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian experts will also be on board the aircraft, to oversee the proper use of surveillance and filming equipment.

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force on January 1, 2002, establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its 34 member states to promote openness and the transparency of military forces and activities. Russia ratified the deal in May 2001.

Under the treaty, each aircraft flying under the Open Skies program is fitted with a sensor suite including optical panoramic and framing cameras, video cameras with real-time display, thermal infrared imaging sensors, and imaging radar.

The image data recorded during the observation flights can be shared among all signatories to support the monitoring of compliance with existing or future arms control treaties.

RIA Novosti

Raytheon’s Mike Boots Explains Turkey’s Patriot Balance

A Dutch soldier standing by a Patriot anti-missile battery at the Diyarbakir military airport in southeastern Turkey. (AFP)
A Dutch soldier standing by a Patriot anti-missile battery at the Diyarbakir military airport in southeastern Turkey. (AFP)

TR Defence’s North America correspondent and acting editor-in-chief Hasan Karaahmet has interviewed Mr. Mike Boots, Patriot Turkey Program Manager at Raytheon Defense Systems, to shed light on some of the most common questions Turkish defense enthusiasts ask regarding Turkey’s T-LORAMIDS long-range air defence program.

Hasan Karaahmet: Mr. Boots, thank you for agreeing to talk to our readers. As a time-tested, battle-proven system, many countries around the world depend on the Patriot, both NATO and non-NATO. What is the driving force behind Patriot’s huge commercial success to this day?

Mike Boots: No other existing system has the proven combat experience of Patriot to engage evolving threats; and no other air and missile defense system has demonstrated the reliability and lower cost of system ownership. Patriot is the backbone of NATO’s lower tier defense, and as you know, Patriot is currently deployed in Turkey by NATO members Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.

Hasan Karaahmet: What is the current level of deployment around the world?

Mike Boots: There are currently over 200 Patriot fire units deployed around the world with Raytheon’s 12 Patriot partners. More than 40 Patriot fire units are now in construction or are undergoing modernization.

Hasan Karaahmet: How about the US? How long does the US military itself plan on using the Patriot air defence system?

Mike Boots: The US Army has committed to fielding Patriot beyond the year 2048.

Hasan Karaahmet: What’s Raytheon’s policy on investments in Turkey?

Mike Boots: Raytheon has a long history working in Turkey — from ground based air defence systems like Stinger and Hawk to tactical radars like Firefinder and Sentinel. From our family of air-to-air missiles like AMRAAM and AIM-9 to naval command management systems like Genesis. Raytheon is committed to partnerships with Turkish industry.

Hasan Karaahmet: Any cooperation prospects in regards to Patriot?

Mike Boots: We are already working closely with several Turkish defence companies to produce Patriot components for export to other countries. For example, Aselsan is a key strategic partner for Raytheon on the Antenna Mast Group for the UAE Patriot system. Roketsan is also a key strategic partner, producing components of GEM-T missile for the UAE and Kuwait. Also, Pagatel is producing command and control shelters, and AYESAS is working on the command and control integration.

Hasan Karaahmet: Turkey’s Undersecreteriat for Defence Industries, the SSM, has adopted a procurement policy favoring local production and technology sharing. What are Raytheon’s views on this?

Mike Boots: Both Roketsan and Aselsan have been awardedRaytheon’s prestigious Supplier Excellence awards for the past two years for the excellent work they have performed on these programs. We anticipate increased global Patriot work share for Roketsan and Aselsan and have recently signed long-ter, agreements with these great companies for collaboration on advanced technology co-development projects in the area of high altitude missile defense. In addition to these strategic partner companies I mentioned, many other Turkish defence companies have the experience and skills we look for in our suppliers. As we win in other countries, they will get the opportunity to compete for additional work for those programs.

Hasan Karaahmet: Can the Patriot system be operated in conjunction with an Aselsan radar or launch a Turkish-made missile with comparable capabilities?

Mike Boots: Patriot can use data and information from a wide variety of sources and can interface with a variety of equipment, including missiles. We would need to know the specific sensors or effectors we are talking about in order to adequately answer that question.

Hasan Karaahmet: Does the US government or certain laws restrict the transfer of know-how on any subsystem or component of Patriot to Turkey?

Mike Boots: No! Turkey is a valuable ally of the United States and a NATO partner. Turkey’s T-LORAMIDS program fulfills an important NATO air and missile defence commitment.

Hasan Karaahmet: Certain reports appeared in the Turkish defence media indicate that the Patriot procurement has been tied to Turkey’s being granted access to F-35 source codes and the SM-2/Aegis technology for TF-2000 class frigates. What can you tell me about this?

Mike Boots: Intellectual property (IP) rights, such as software source codes, are often an issue to be negotiated in any sale of new technology. A customer’s desire for IP rights must be balanced with the rights of the inventor and owner of those rights through the negotiation process.

Hasan Karaahmet: Mr. Boots, how does Patriot compare to the other Western contender in T-LORAMIDS, Eurosam’s SAMP/T? What makes Patriot the better of the two?

Mike Boots: As I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, no other existing system has the proven combat experience of Patriot to engage evolving threats. No other air and missile defence system has demonstrated the reliability and lower cost of system ownership. Patriot is NATO’s lower tier defense with 200 Patriot fire units deployed around the world.

Hasan Karaahmet: In the past, we’ve published statements from mainly US sources that if Turkey opts for a non-Western solution, integration of the SAM system into NATO networks can be problematic. Can you explain to our viewers as to why this is the case?

Mike Boots: We have read and heard similar statements from various sources. NATO is very serious about protecting critical technology from falling into the hands of potential enemies. Patriot is a key element of NATO air and missile defence capability and works seamlessly with the NATO command and control architecture and other NATO defence systems. NATO would be very careful about what other systems might be connected to the architecture.

Hasan Karaahmet: What’s the future for Patriot? Is it going to continue to evolve with new capabilities beyond the GEM=T and PAC-3?

Mike Boots: The Patriot modernization roadmap will ensure Patriot remains the most advanced air and missile defence system in the world. If Turkey chooses Patriot for their long-range air and missile defense system, Turkish industry will have opportunities to participate in co-developing new technologies to help keep Patriot on the leading edge of technology.

 

Kroenig: Why the U.S. needs its oversized nuclear arsenal

This week, President Obama gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, calling for the United States and Russia to reduce the size of their deployed nuclear arsenals by one-third to around 1,000 strategic warheads. The call for further cuts has been greeted with enthusiasm in many quarters, but these proposed nuclear reductions could potentially be highly damaging to U.S. interests.

In his speech, the president argued that such cuts would be consistent with the goal of maintaining “a strong and credible strategic deterrent,” but this argument rests on a contested theory about how nuclear deterrence works. The Obama administration, and many scholars and experts, believe that a secure, second-strike capability is sufficient for deterrence and that anything more is “overkill.” Therefore, they believe that nuclear warheads in excess of a “minimum deterrent” threshold can be cut with very little loss to our national security.

However, there are those who argue that maintaining a nuclear advantage over one’s opponents enhances deterrence. As Paul Nitze argued during the Cold War, it is of “the utmost importance that the West maintain a sufficient margin of superior capability. . . . The greater the margin (and the more clearly the Communists understand that we have a margin), the less likely it is that nuclear war will ever occur.”

For decades, this debate was largely theoretical – neither camp marshaled systematic evidence in support of its views – but, recently, I methodically reviewed the relationship between the size of a country’s nuclear arsenal and its ability to achieve its national security objectives. I found strong evidence that, when it comes to nuclear deterrence, more is better.

In an analysis of 52 countries that participated in nuclear crises from 1945 to 2001 (think the Cuban Missile Crisis), I found that the state with the greater number of warheads is over 17 times more likely to achieve its goals. In addition, there is qualitative evidence from these crises that leaders in nuclear-armed states pay close attention to the nuclear balance of power, that they believe nuclear superiority enhances their position, and that a nuclear advantage often translates directly into a geopolitical advantage.

For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Secretary of State Dean Rusk argued, “One thing Mr. Khrushchev may have in mind is that . . . he knows that we have a substantial nuclear superiority . . . He also knows that we don’t really live under fear of his nuclear weapons to the extent . . . that he has to live under ours.” Even if Russia agrees to match the president’s proposed cuts, the nuclear reductions would attenuate our advantages vis-à-vis Russia and eat into our margin of superiority against other nuclear-armed states, such as China, possibly increasing the likelihood that the United States will be challenged militarily and reducing the probability that we achieve our goals in future crises.

If there is at least some reason to believe that reductions could harm America’s strategic deterrent, then certainly those in favor of reductions provide concrete evidence that the benefits of reductions outweigh these costs, right? Alas, they do not.

Supporters of further cuts argue that reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy will help us stop the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries. They argue that our large nuclear arsenal makes it difficult (if not hypocritical) to tell, say, Iran that it cannot have nuclear weapons, or to demand that other non-nuclear countries (such as Brazil and Turkey) help us pressure Iran. Therefore, they argue, we can generate goodwill and strengthen our nonproliferation efforts by cutting our own nuclear arsenal.

This argument makes sense at a superficial level, but on closer inspection it falls apart. As Iran’s leaders decide whether to push forward with, or put limits on, their nuclear program, or as Brazilian and Turkish leaders think about getting tougher with Iran, they likely consider many things, but it is implausible that the precise size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is among them. The evidence backs this logic up; the United States has been cutting the size of its nuclear arsenal since 1967, but there is no reason to believe that we have ever received any credit for doing so, or that these cuts have contributed to any breakthroughs on important nonproliferation problems. In short, we can’t stop other countries from building nuclear weapons by getting rid of our own.

Finally, proponents of cuts claim that nuclear reductions will lead to cost savings in a time of budget austerity, but, at least in the short term, nuclear reductions will actually result in cost increases, not decreases. Cutting arsenal size means pulling missiles out of silos, erecting buildings in which to store them, dismantling retired warheads, and decommissioning nuclear facilities. All of this costs money. Only if we think we can maintain a diminished nuclear posture indefinitely is it plausible to think there might be marginal cost savings to be had over the long run. But this would be an unwise bet given that U.S. competitors, including China, are moving in the opposite direction, expanding and modernizing their nuclear forces.

Since there are potential strategic costs and no identifiable benefits to further reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the United States should refrain from making any additional nuclear reductions. It must not go below the 1,550 warheads agreed to in New START (and it should take its sweet time getting down to that number). In addition, the United States should maintain the “hedge” of weapons it keeps in reserve at current levels and halt the transfer of warheads from storage to retirement and elimination. Finally, the Obama administration must follow through on its promise to fully invest in modernizing U.S. nuclear infrastructure so that it does not lose the capability to sustain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal for decades to come.

Some may find this argument provocative, but it is actually quite anodyne; I recommend simply that the United States maintain the status quo. What is provocative is slashing America’s nuclear arsenal to 60-year lows in the face of evidence suggesting that doing so will harm our national interests.

Newsday

Turkey, US cooperate on aid to Syrian rebels

Turkey and the United States have intensified political and military dialogue for strategic planning to smoothly deliver U.S. weapons to the Free Syria Army (FSA), following Washington’s decision to supply military assistance to the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Bashar al-Assad’s army, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

On the political level, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Secretary of State John Kerry exchanged two phone calls, one on Saturday and the other late Wednesday, to discuss recent developments in Syria on the eve of a crucial core group meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People on Saturday in Doha. Kerry and Davutoğlu are also expected to hold a tête-à-tête meeting in Doha, in their first encounter since relations between the two allies were strained over the Gezi Park protests.

On the military-intelligence level, technical experts from the two countries are in intense talks to explore the best ways for the delivery of American weaponry to the FSA. Some representatives of the rebels have also been present in these meetings.

One of the most likely potential routes for the transportation of this weaponry into Syria is through Turkey, which has a long border with its southern neighbor, diplomatic sources said. Syria’s northern parts are under the FSA’s control and Turkey has stood as the best logistical center for the Syrian opposition since the turmoil broke in the country in 2011.
The Kerry-Davutoğlu phone conversation late Wednesday mainly addressed developments in Syria, following Washington’s policy change regarding arms supplies to the FSA.

No-fly zone on the agenda of Doha

“After this change of policy, they sure want to be in close coordination with us,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the HDN. “The change in the U.S. position has impacts on the ground and at the political level. Just after Washington declared this change in their policy, 73 senior Syrian army officials -including some four-star generals – defected to Turkey,” the official said.
Davutoğlu is now expected to hold bilateral meetings with some of his counterparts in Doha, including with John Kerry.

The Doha meeting of 11 foreign ministers of the core group of the Friends of the Syrian People follows recent Syrian regime successes, which intensified its attacks to re-take control of the northern town of Aleppo, the country’s economic capital. The conference follows a high-level meeting in Ankara last week between the Friends of Syria, during which FSA commander Salim İdriss discussed the provision of military aid, including heavy weapons, according to Reuters.

“We will discuss everything, including the implementation of a no-fly zone over Syria,” Foreign Minister Davutoğlu said in an interview with private broadcaster TGRT late on Wednesday. The use of chemical weapons, which has been proven by the Turkish and U.S. governments, will also be discussed, while participant countries will explore how to swiftly provide aid to the opposition groups.

Aleppo is key for the FSA and Turkey

The regime’s success on the ground is seen as an warning among the international community. Regime forces’ retaking of critical passage point Qusayir, and particularly its marching toward Aleppo, were important developments on the ground that could give hope to al-Assad that he is winning the fight.
“The message we convey to the core group countries is that it’s time to give more support to the opposition. Al-Assad should not be brought to the point where he is winning the victory militarily. Because in this case, he would never approach us for a political solution,” the Turkish official stressed. Al-Assad’s achievements on the ground would make prospects for the 2nd Geneva meeting almost meaningless, Ankara believes.

Keeping the control of Aleppo is very significant not only for the FSA, but also for Turkey, which is concerned about a massive refugee influx from this town of 3 million people. An increase in the number of refugees fleeing Aleppo has recently been observed, as the total number of Syrians seeking asylum in Turkey has reached 205,000.

HDN

Turkey Picks Saab To Mentor National Fighter Program

Turkey has selected  Saab to help shape its plans to design, develop and manufacture its first national fighter jet.

Ankara has already drafted three models, one of which likely will become its first indigenous fighter, although some analysts said Turkey should have opted for an unmanned model.

“After lengthy negotiations with Saab, we have come to the conclusion to go ahead with this company to finalize our feasibility studies,” a senior procurement official familiar with the national fighter program said.

He said that the Swedish aerospace and defense group  already has assisted with the three models Turkish engineers have drafted, and these would be presented to top management at the country’s arms procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), as well as to the Air Force.

“We are working to make that presentation in September or October,” the official said.

The Saab group’s office here did not respond to questions by press time.

An official from Tusas Aerospace Industries (TAI), the local prime contractor for the program, said that one of the three drafts is a twin-engine stealth aircraft and the other two are single-engine models, also stealthy.

The procurement official said the program has two problems to overcome.

“We need to pick up the right engine manufacturer with which we should be able to work out a long-term relationship. That will be essential. Also, we need to know that a meticulously devised cost-benefit analysis should prove this is a feasible program,” he said.

A government official said the final decision on whether to launch the manufacturing phase would be made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“A lot will depend on the findings of the cost-benefit analysis in progress now,” the official said. “We would accept a certain margin that will make the Turkish fighter reasonably more expensive than available options. But if we find out that we could only manufacture a fighter, say, [at a cost] 40 to 50 percent more expensive than a proven, off-the-shelf buy option, then the prime minister would probably drop the idea.”

According to a draft plan, the country is aiming for a maiden flight for its national fighter jet in 2023, the Turkish Republic’s centennial. Production would commence in 2021, and deliveries to the Air Force are planned between 2025 and 2035. The aircraft would remain in service until 2060.

“This is a long-term plan, and given technological developments in the global aerospace scene, the Turks should perhaps have gone for an unmanned fighter,” a London-based Turkey specialist said.

Earlier, TAI signed a technical assistance deal with Saab to carry out conceptual design work. This followed an August 2011 deal signed with SSM to begin the conceptual design work for the fighter and trainer jets that Turkey hopes to build.

Designing the first Turkish fighter, according to defense analysts, is a necessary but not critical step.

“What is crucial here is whether this project would enable Turkey to earn capabilities to successfully integrate avionics, electronics and weapon systems into the chosen platform,” the London-based analyst said.

Saab produces the JAS 39 Gripen, a lightweight, single-engine multirole fighter. Saab has cooperated with other aerospace companies in marketing the aircraft and has achieved moderate success in Central Europe, South Africa and Southeast Asia. More than 240 Gripens have been delivered or ordered.

In 2010, Sweden awarded Saab a four-year contract to improve the Gripen’s equipment, integrate new weapons and lower operating costs. Last August, Sweden announced it planned to buy 40 to 60 Gripen NGs. The Swedish order followed Switzerland’s decision to buy 22 E/F variants of the jet.

For its fighter program, dubbed TF-X, Turkey hopes to copy the method devised to co-produce T-129 attack helicopters with Italian-British AgustaWestland.

“We think this model has worked successfully and could be a template for our fighter program,” the TAI official said.

Turkey also plans to buy the F-35. But Turkish officials said they wanted to develop a fighter jet with another country to reduce Turkey’s dependence on Washington.

HDN