Category: News

NATO to Hold Emergency Article 4 Meeting After Deadly Attack on Turkish Forces in Idlib

NATO’s decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC), will meet on Friday (28 February 2020), following a request by Turkey to hold consultations under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty…

NATO’s decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC), will meet on Friday (28 February 2020), following a request by Turkey to hold consultations under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty on the situation in Syria. Under article 4 of the Treaty, any Ally can request consultations whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

WHAT HAPPENED? 

A pro-government attack killed 33 Turkish soldiers in northwestern Syria last night. The attack took place in the village of Balyun (Idlib province), where the Turkish military had diverted to hold the frontline against the advancing pro-government forces (e.g. Syrian Arab Army, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and the Russian Aerospace Forces and advisors). Initially, only 9 casualties were reported, but the death toll spiked overnight to over 30 KIA. Turkey was only able to evacuate the wounded by land, as Russia reportedly refused to deconflict the airspace for Turkish helicopters. 

WHO CONDUCTED THE ATTACK?

Ankara identified “regime forces” as being behind the mass-casualty attack, although there is reason to believe that the Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) bombed the Turkish military position. Ever since Turkey demonstrated a willingness to use MANPADS (Man-portable air-defense systems) in Idlib earlier this month, when it shot down two Mi-17 Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) helicopters, Damascus grounded its helicopter fleet. This left Russia as the only force engaged in air operations over Idlib. While some of the few SyAAF fighter jets are still air-worthy (one MIG-23 “Flogger” was recently spotted airborne) they have limited capability to conduct precision airstrikes at night (e.g. small to no inventory of thermal/ infrared-targeting pods). 

The Kremlin, however, claims the Turkish forces were hit by Syrian artillery shelling and that Turkey had not informed Russia in advance about their recent movements. Moscow’s’ claims are difficult to believe as both the Russian and Turkish command centers are keeping tabs 24/7 on each other through drones, satellite imagery, and other ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) assets. Russia has also been aware of the recent Turkish troop surge in southern Idlib and even targeted a Turkish military convoy in the area several days ago. Russia is also using small unmanned aerial systems to direct Syrian artillery on Turkish and opposition forces.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that the Turkish re-positioning has been pre-coordinated with Russia and that even ambulances came under fire during the medical evacuation. 

TURKISH RETALIATION

The Turkish military released a video showing that it executed a series of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) strikes against pro-government positions and vehicles in retaliation for the attack. 

CAN TURKEY INVOKE ARTICLE 5? 

Almost certainly not. As Article 6 stipulates: “the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

  • on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France 2, on the territory of Turkey or the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;
  • on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.”

Article 5 is the cornerstone of NATO and states that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all of its members. Article 5 cannot be used to draw collective military support for extraterritorial operations or wars-by-proxy. 

WHAT WILL ARTICLE 4 BRING? 

Article 4 meetings usually result in political support from the other 28 members and possibly a largely defensive military support package. Ankara has previously used Article 4 at least three times to request NATO augment Turkey’s air defense capabilities. This time, however, the Turkish government will likely pressure its allies to provide more support. President Erdogan has recently threatened to allow the millions of refugees that were forced to the border by the pro-government offensive, to flee for Europe. 


FOR CONTEXT

The pro-government camp and the Turkish-backed opposition groups (National Front for Liberation/NFL) are both on the offensive in Idlib. With Turkish artillery and limited air support, the NFL has recaptured Nayrab and Saraqib on the M5 highway- positions that it lost less than a month ago (see Facebook post). 

After capturing the M5 highway, the pro-government camp reshuffled its forces to south-central Idlib province, where it aims to dislodge the Opposition forces from the M4 highway section linking Latakia province to Saraqib city.

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U.S. Navy Intercepts Iranian Weapons Shipment to Yemen

The U.S. Navy interdicted an illicit shipment of advanced Iranian-made weapons and weapon components headed for Yemen in the Arabian Sea, on February 9, 2020. The discovery was made by…

The U.S. Navy interdicted an illicit shipment of advanced Iranian-made weapons and weapon components headed for Yemen in the Arabian Sea, on February 9, 2020. The discovery was made by the crew of USS Normandy (CG 60), a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser. The CG 60 launched a search party that boarded the stateless dhow and found a cache of weapons. The maritime security operation was conducted under international law.

The weapons seized from the dhow consist of:

  • 150 “Dehlavieh” missiles, which are the Iranian version of the Russian-made “Kornet” anti-tank missiles;
  • Three unidentified Iranian-made surface-to-air missiles;
  • Thermal imaging scopes;
  • Components of manned and unmanned aerial systems and surface vessels;
  • Munition;
  • Other weapon parts. 

Many of these weapons systems are identical to the advanced weapons and weapon components seized by the guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) in the Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019. Those weapons were determined to be of Iranian origin and assessed to be destined for the “Ansar Allah” militia (the Houthis) in Yemen, which would be in violation of a UN Security Council Resolution 2216 that prohibits the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis. The same resolution encourages all states to inspect the sea and air cargo to Yemen.

The seized weapons are in U.S. custody awaiting final disposition. The assessment of the material will be an interagency and international effort. International partner nations and organizations have also been invited to inspect the cache.

IRANIAN WEAPONS SMUGGLING OPERATION IN YEMEN

Since the Yemeni civil war began in 2015, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ external operations branch, the Quds Force (IRGC-QF), has illegally transferred large quantities of weapons to Houthi rebels. Tehran’s giveaways include Borkan ballistic missiles (derivative of Iran’s “Qi’am”), “Quds” cruise missiles (derivative of Iran’s “Ya-Ali”), the Iranian-made Sayyad 2-C surface-to-air missile, expandable-unmanned aerial vehicles and thousands of assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and rockets. Iran uses small, low-visibility and elusive vessels, such as fishing boats and dhows, to freight weapons into Yemen. Sometimes the small vessels use ship-to-ship transfers to move or distribute cargo along the way. The U.S. Navy has periodically intercepted illicit weapons shipments in the Arabian Sea. However, the number of weapons interdicted represents a tiny fraction of the overall illicit seaborne cargo outbound from Iran. 

The Houthi has used these capabilities to attack petrochemical facilities, military installations and urban centers deep inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates in the past years. The Houthis also attacked oil tankers transiting the Bab el-Mandeb strait and the Red Sea. Similar to the “Hezbollah model”, the Iranian support for Houthi has transformed the irregular militia into a hybrid force armed with advanced weaponry. A strong Houthi enables Iran to attack targets deep in the KSA and the Red Sea and to open a second front in case of a direct conflict with Riyadh. 

Waging war on the KSA is only one of Iran’s two strategic interests in Yemen. As part of its maritime strategy, Iran aims to control the two main checkpoints vital for international maritime shipping. Iran already controls the main one, the Hormuz strait, due to its territorial boundaries. But control over the second one, the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, requires ashore dominance in Yemen. However, the Houthi only control Yemen’s western seaboard. An intervention by the UAE in 2015 managed to deny the Houthi and al-Qa’ida control over Yemen’s main ports in the south, Aden and Mukalla. 

Iran proved that it is willing to go beyond rhetoric in 2019 when the IRGC covertly attacked the Emirati port of Fujairah, oil refineries in KSA, and oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, causing chaos on the oil market and temporarily disrupting international sea trade. 

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Russian, American Satellites Play Cat-and-Mouse in Space

The United States Space Force confirmed that two Russian “inspector” satellites have stalked a U.S. spy satellite in the low-Earth orbit (LEO), in the past weeks. The American satellite, known…

The United States Space Force confirmed that two Russian “inspector” satellites have stalked a U.S. spy satellite in the low-Earth orbit (LEO), in the past weeks. The American satellite, known as “USA 245”, is one of the highly-secretive and advanced KH-11 Block IV geospatial intelligence spacecraft. Built by Lockheed Martin as part of the U.S. “Keyhole” program, the KH-11 uses a 2.4 diameter prime mirror, which enables ultrahigh-resolution of 15 cm (objects that are minimum this size can be seen on satellite photos). The KH-11 satellites are operated by National Reconnaissance Office.

A KH-11 satellite was likely the GEOINT platform that photographed Iran’s failed space launch in August 2019 (photo in the post). President Donald J. Trump later tweeted the photo. In addition to its high-end electro-optical digital imaging, KH-11 satellites can be tasked with certain ELINT missions. 

COSMOS 2542 AND 2543 

The Russians claim that their sensors, named “Cosmos 2542” and “Cosmos 2543” are in space to conduct maintenance inspections of other Russian satellites. However, Russia has been lying about its space operation ever since it placed the satellites into orbit on November 26, 2019. Initially, Moscow only announced Cosmos 2542 as being launched into space. But after two weeks of orbiting, Cosmos 2542 literally “birthed” a second, smaller satellite (Cosmos 2543). The two satellites then approached USA 245 instead of drifting away as Cosmos 2542 usually did. 

A visual timeline of the Cosmos-2452 launch on November 25, 2019, via RussianSpaceWeb.com

UNUSUAL ORBITAL ACTIVITY

Between January 20 and 23, the Russian spacecraft essentially matched orbits with the American spy satellite. The distance between the Russian and American parties was fluctuating from 150 to 300 km. The Russian satellites traversed a clever orbit that allowed them to inspect the KH-11 from multiple angles while keeping the American satellite in sunlight for most of the time. This put the KH-11 in perfect light and distance for the Russian spacecraft to photograph the American satellite and in particular, its high-tech lenses. 

Credits for the discovery and orbital activity analysis goes to geospatial expert @M_R_Thompson who’s close observation of the three spacecraft made it to OSINT circles since January. 

DIRECT/ SOFT KILL PRACTICE?

The unusual behavior of the two Russian satellites suggests that they were either attacking, simulating an attack, or collecting intelligence on the American spacecraft. Many agree that the Kremlin would have gained little from photographing the KH-11’s optics. This opens up the possibility that the Russian satellite duo was practicing an attack on USA 245. The simulated attack could have been either direct – donating near the target – or through soft-kill techniques. For example, the Russian satellites could have deployed low-energy lasers or chemical sprayers to blind USA 245’s camera lens and therefore render it useless. High-frequency microwaves or radiofrequency jammers could have also been used to disrupt the KH-11’s function. 

Types of anti-satellite attacks via the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

NEED FOR U.S. SPACE FORCE, BIGGER THAN EVER

Situations like this underline the importance of the newly established and independent U.S. Space Force. As opposed to Russia and China, the U.S. military is heavily dependent on the orbital “high-ground” to command, control and execute operations in case of war. With the threat of Chinese and Russian anti-satellite capabilities growing at a rapid pace, Washington took the U.S. Space Command from the Air Force and transformed it into a separate service. Given the plethora of American intelligence collection, communications, early warning, and missile defense satellites, the U.S will only benefit from having a platform dedicated to safeguarding these assets.



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U.S. Kills Al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Leader in Yemen

The United States conducted a counterterrorism operation in Yemen that eliminated Qasim al-Raymi, the leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a deputy to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri….

The United States conducted a counterterrorism operation in Yemen that eliminated Qasim al-Raymi, the leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a deputy to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The operation took place on January 29, 2020, as a kinetic strike, but al-Raymi’s death was only confirmed on February 7, 2020. His death further degrades AQAP, the global al-Qa’ida (AQ) movement and their ability to stage external attacks. 

T-Intelligence has reported about the growing U.S. counterterrorism mission in Yemen since 2018, when we exclusively presented an airfield near Mukalla used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to eliminate AQAP targets, including Qasim al-Raymi. You can find that assessment here



Qasim al-Raymi is the latest foreign terrorist leader and high-value target (HVT) to be neutralized by the U.S in the past year. JSOC and CIA killed several Tanzeem Hurras al-Din (THD) and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants in Idlib province (Syria) throughout 2018 and 2019. The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta (or “Delta Force”) neutralized ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a direct action raid on his compound in Barisha (Idlib) in late 2019. A U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone killed IRGC-Quds Force Major-General Qassim Soleimani near Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020.

High-value targeting (HVT) operations aim to throw organizations in disarray by “beheading” leadership figures and therefore complicating ongoing or planned operations. In the case of highly personalized groups, HVT campaigns can demoralize their supporters. HVT campaigns should not be viewed as a solution to a problem, but as an instrument of pressure that is highly efficient in the short-term. 

HVT- QASIM AL-RAYMI

  1. Born and raised in Yemen, Qasim al-Raymi was a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, where he fought and trained alongside AQ central headed by Usama Bin Laden. 
  2. Returned in the Arabian peninsula, Raymi became a major jihadi figure in southern Yemen, orchestrating attacks and seizing territories. In 2005, Raymi was imprisoned on terror charges. 
  3. A year later, Raymi and other 22 AQ-affiliated figures broke out of prison and worked towards creating AQAP. 
  4. Al-Raymi became the group’s top emir in June 2015, after Abu Basser al-Wuhayshi was killed in a U.S. kinetic strike. Under his leadership, AQAP reached an apogee of territorial expansion, which included Yemen’s fifth-largest city, al-Mukalla in 2015. The seizure or urban locations enabled AQAP to impose ISIS-style governance over large populations. 
  5. AQAP was only forced out of Mukalla in April 2016, when the Arab Coalition-backed by U.S. air power launched an offensive to recover the city. Since then, al-Raymi has been the target of an aggressive U.S. SOF campaign.
  6. In January 2017, the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU, or “ SEAL Team Six”) launched a direct action operation on the village of Yalka to capture or kill Raymi. While the target was not found, the operation was a major success in terms of intelligence collected. 

Qasim al-Raymi in a 2017 video via The Long War Journal

THE AQAP TERRORIST THREAT

AQAP is a foreign terrorist group and one of the strongest AQ affiliates worldwide. The group was formed in 2009 from the merger of AQ’s cells in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Yemen. As a militant jihadi group, AQAP plans to purge the Arabian peninsula of “Christians and Jews” and establish an Islamic Caliphate. AQAP’s strategy includes disbanding the Yemeni state, overthrowing the Saudi royal family, assassinating Western nationals and striking Western targets at home and abroad. The terror group has been actively plotting and executing both internal and external attacks intended to cause mass casualties. The group’s most infamous attacks include:

  • October 12, 2000: a water-borne improvised explosive device manned by two AQ operatives rams into the USS Cole in the Port of Aden, killing 13 U.S. service members. 
  • December 6, 2004: A group of AQAP gunmen attacks the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, KSA, killing 5 non-American staff members. 
  • September 17, 2018: AQAP militants detonate two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) outside the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a. 
  • August 27, 2009: AQ militant Abdullah Asiri attempts to assassinate KSA’s Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, then Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs, by detonating an explosive belt. Bin Nayef was only injured. 
  • December 6, 2013: AQAP ram a VBIED into attack into a hospital of the Yemeni Defense Ministry in Sana’a and then storm the building with assault rifles. The attack left over 50 people dead. 
  • January 7, 2015: Said and Cherif Kouachi attack the office on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing at least 12 people. The Kouchi brothers received firearms training in Yemen and were acting on behalf of AQAP. 
  • December 6, 2019: A Saudi airman opens fire on a classroom building at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, U.S, killing three people. 

COVER PHOTO: As seen through a night-vision device, U.S. coalition forces and Afghan commandos get dropped off at their target by a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter to conduct a night operation in the Sairobi district of Afghanistan’s Kabul province, Dec. 2, 2013. (U.S. Department of Defense)

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Poland Signs Contract for Dozens of F-35A Stealth Fighters

The Polish government has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin to buy 32 F-35A stealth multirole fighter jets for the Polish Air Force, on January 31, 2020. The contract is…

The Polish government has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin to buy 32 F-35A stealth multirole fighter jets for the Polish Air Force, on January 31, 2020. The contract is estimated to be worth  $4.6 billion, making it the biggest military purchase in the country’s history. The first F-35As are expected to arrive in Poland in 2026. 

The groundbreaking purchase makes Poland the first Central and Eastern European country country to acquire the fifth generation aircraft. Warsaw joins the exclusive club of current or future F-35 operators, that includes six NATO members (United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark), Japan, Australia, Singapore and the Republic of Korea. 


REPLACING OLD SOVIET AIRCRAFT

The American defense contractor will deliver the latest configuration (Block 4) of the F-35’s Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) version. The Block 4 features an expanded missile capacity, from four to six internally carried missiles, improved sensors and data-link, and advanced computing power. The Polish Air Force (PoAF) will use the F-35s to replace the Soviet-era legacy Su-22 fighter-bombers  (NATO Reporting name: “Fitter”) and MiG-29 air superiority jets (“Fulcrum), and will serve alongside its existing fleet of 48 F-16s. 

ENHANCING POLISH AIR FORCE CAPABILITIES

With the F-35 in service, the PoAF will posses a top-of-the-line air defense capability and striking platform. Poland will enjoy unmatched interoperability in joint force and Coalition operations. In addition to national air policing, the F-35A will enable Poland to conduct Destruction/ Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (D/SEAD), Offensive Counter Air (OCA) and to prosecute targets defended by enemy anti-access/ area-denial (A2/AD) “bubbles.” 

STEALTH

The F-35 is known for its low-observability (or stealth), sensor fusion, increased situational awareness and integrated electronic warfare system, but also for its production delays and constant software patches. Born from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, the F-35 was designed as a jack-of-all-trade platform to satisfy the operational requirements of the three major U.S. military branches. As the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have different needs and operational doctrines, the JSF’s initial requirements mutated in the compromise and more economical formula we have today. However, the one element that remained universally embraced was stealth. 

Contrary to widespread misperception, stealth is not invisibility. Rather, stealth gives the F-35 the ability to elude or greatly complicate an enemy’s ability to find and destroy an aircraft using a combination of tactics and technology. In general, stealth is the ability to evade detection by radar, infrared sensors or emission interception. Stealth provides greater survivability and access, allowing aircraft to operate in contested A2/AD environments, that legacy fighters simply cannot penetrate or evade. 



An integrated airframe design, advanced radar-absorbing materials, low-probability of intercept sensors and other features maximize the F-35’s stealth features. This allows the F-35 to defeat upper band radars (X- and Ku-bands) that are used by air defense systems for SAM engagement control. The aircraft performs less effective against early-warning and acquisition radars operating in the lower bands (UHV/ VHF), however these sensors are unable to provide engagement guidance , and can only “paint” a vague picture of threat. 

REAL TEST AFTER 2026

With the F-35 purchase, Poland sets an example for the other NATO militaries that are still struggling to transition from the defunct Warsaw Pact model. However, the real test begins after 2026 when the PoAF will have to undertake the exhausting task of absorbing the F-35 fleet into operational use and keep its combat readiness rate high. Another Herculean challenge will be to provide constant maintenance to the “needy” platform, in the form of software patches, logistical support infrastructure, weapons integration, LO coating maintenance and other aspects.

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SEAL Team Six Reached the E-11A Crash Site in Afghanistan

U.S. Operators assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU, also known as “SEAL Team Six”) reached the crash site of the Bombardier Global Express E-11A aircraft in Ghazni…

U.S. Operators assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU, also known as “SEAL Team Six”) reached the crash site of the Bombardier Global Express E-11A aircraft in Ghazni province (central Afghanistan), “ConnectingVets” reports. The SEALs recovered the bodies of the two pilots and the aircraft’s recorder, or “black box.” 

The U.S. Air Force E-11A (registration number: 11-9358) crashed  in the Taliban-held Dih Yak district, 130 km south of Kabul, at 13:10 local time on January 27, 2020. The crew issued a “mayday” call while the aircraft was at a cruising altitude of 42,000 feet, Newsweek has learned. Investigators are looking into technical malfunctions and “bad fuel”. 

The footage of the crash site, released by the Taliban and Iranian media, shows the aircraft’s fuselage barely split from the tail section and cockpit, resting in a horizontal position after sliding for several meters on its “underbelly.”  This is consistent with a controlled landing. There is no evidence that the aircraft was shot down by enemy fire as the Taliban claim. 

Another angle shows how “intact” the aircraft remained despite its hard landing/ crash. An enemy MANPAD missile would have blown the aircraft into pieces.

The E-11A is just one of the four Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) aircraft in service with the U.S. Air Force. The role of a E-11A is to establish, relay and extend secure communications and data fusion between sea, air and land forces in a theater of operations. Besides the three BACN-capable E-11A left, the RQ-4 “Global Hawk” can also operate as an airborne communications relay. 

The crash is still being investigated by the U.S. Department of Defense and we will update this article when more details will be released.

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Syrian Army Enters Strategic City in Idlib

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and other pro-government forces have entered Ma’arat al-Numan, an opposition-held town of critical importance, on January 28, 2020. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)…

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and other pro-government forces have entered Ma’arat al-Numan, an opposition-held town of critical importance, on January 28, 2020. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) report that the fighting moved inside the city, with social media evidence confirming the event. It is however, unclear whether the SAA has also managed to capture the city. The situation is likely very fluid with sporadic fights and pockets of resistance appearing in the city’s neighbourhoods. 

Located in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, the town was the target of the SAA’s newest offensive launched on Friday. Since then, the pro-government camp captured 23 towns and surrounded Ma’arat al-Numan. With the city besieged, fighter-bombers operated by the Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) and helicopters used by the Syrain Arab Air Force (SyAAF) dropped scores of unguided ammunition such as thermobaric and barrel bombs on the area. Shiite militias backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) such as Liwa Fatemiyoun also participate in the offensive.


The escalatory wave of aerial attacks as well as the SAA’s steady advance forced over 1,000 inhabitants from Ma’arrat al-Numan, Saraqib and Jabal al-Zawiya into displacement. This adds to the 1,500,000 Syrians already displaced in Opposition-held territory. Idlib’s total population is around 3,000,000. 


The seizure of Ma’arrat al-Numan is the most important step in the SAA’s objective to capture the M5 highway that transits Idlib province on a north-south axis. The M5 highway links the capital Damascus to Syria’s second city Aleppo, and is vital for the Assad regime to rekindle its moribund economy. 

Ma’arat al-Numan is also one of few Idlib towns that are not controlled by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a salafist-jihadi organisation that is unofficially linked with Al-Qa’ida (AQ). Since 2018, the city is under the control of the Turkish-backed Syrian Liberation Front (SLF), a coalition of Syrian opposition groups based in Idlib, and that oppose HTS and other AQ-linked groups. 



Meanwhile, the Turkish Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Turkey will not hesitate to retaliate if its observation points are threatened. The Turkish Land Forces operates at least 10 observation posts in Opposition-held territory near the frontline with the pro-government camp. Turkey hoped that the presence of its personnel will deter the SAA and Russia from attacking Idlib. However, the SAA’s ground offensive and Russia’s airstrikes simply avoided the Turkish outposts and captured everything around them. This brought two Turkish observation posts (near Morek and Surman) stranded in SAA-held territory. A third observation post, 20 km south of Ma’arat al-Numan, is in the process of being surrounded. 

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Turkey Builds its first Aircraft Carrier, GEOINT shows

Work is underway at Turkey’s first aircraft carrier, TCG “Anadolu” (Pennant number: L-408) at Sedef Shipyard near Istanbul. The Anadolu is built by the Sedef-Novatia joint Turkish-Spanish venture using the…

Work is underway at Turkey’s first aircraft carrier, TCG “Anadolu” (Pennant number: L-408) at Sedef Shipyard near Istanbul. The Anadolu is built by the Sedef-Novatia joint Turkish-Spanish venture using the design of the SPS “Juan Carlos” amphibious assault ship operated by the Spanish Navy. Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) released by the Israeli private geospatial firm IamgeSatIntel shows great progress on the ship. The Anadolu is expected to be completed later this year and to enter service with the Turkish Navy in 2021. 


The TCG Anadolu will be capable of traveling 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) without refueling. The ship is 232 meters in length, 32 meters in width and 55 meters in height, and is said to have a full load displacement of about 27,000 tons.The aircraft carrier will be able to operate four mechanized, two air-cushioned and two personnel landing vehicles, as well as aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). However, Turkey has no fixed-wing aircraft compatible with light-carrier operations and the market offer is extremely limited. 

In mid-2019, the United States ended Turkey’s participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), after Ankara received its first S-400 air defense system (NATO Reporting name: SA-21 “Growler) from Russia. Banned from the JSF program, Turkey lost its order of almost 100 F-35As jets and the ability to follow-up with other purchases. Therefore, the Turkish Navy can stop dreaming about operating F-35Bs from its flatop. The F-35B is purpose-built to be operated from amphibious assault ships and austers landing zones. While Ankara decides whether it wants to build its own STOVL aircraft or acquire an alternative aircraft, the Anadolu will only field helicopters and UAVs in the medium to long term. 




The construction of the ship began in 2016. The Anadolu reflects an increased Turkish interest in projecting power abroad and competing against regional adversaries (Greece, Israel and Egypt). The vessel will augment Turkey’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and support out-of-area operations, such as its foreign deployments in Somalia and Qatar. In addition, the vessel is intended to meet the various needs and requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces – such as sustaining long-endurance missions, humanitarian relief operations – while acting as a command center and flagship for the Turkish Naval Forces.

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Serbia to receive Russian-made Pantsir-S1 Air Defense Systems in late February

Russia’s delivery of Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (NATO Reporting name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) to Serbia will commence in late February this year. The first shipment is rumored to consist of…

Russia’s delivery of Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (NATO Reporting name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) to Serbia will commence in late February this year. The first shipment is rumored to consist of six Pantsir-S1 batteries.

The Pantsir-S1 is a road-mobile self-propelled SAM system designed to provide point air defense air defense against precision-guided attacks from short-to-medium range and low altitudes. The Pantsir’s main armament is the 57E6/E short-range SAM, which can engage targets at a range of 12 to 20 km and altitudes varying from 5 to 15 km. The Pantsir can carry a maximum of 12 SAMs. As a secondary capability, the battery is equipped with two 30mm twin-barrel cannons. The Pantsir’s sensor package consists of a target detection and designation radar, target and missile tracking radar, and electro-optical sensor systems.

CONTROVERSIAL COMBAT PERFORMANCE

Russia advertises the Pantsir as being a highly resilient air defense system against enemy anti-radiation missiles and drones, however, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has repeatedly overwhelmed and destroyed Pantsir batteries operated by the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) in the past years. A Russian report also revealed that the Pantsir performed poorly in its role to defend the Russian 555th Khmeimim Air Base (Syra) against small consumer drones launched by the Syrian armed opposition groups. This forced Russia to deploy additional assets such as the Tor-M2 to reinforce its defenses after a drone attack damaged multiple aircraft in January, 2018. 

SLAVIC SHIELD 2019

Serbian President Alexandar Vucic first announced that Belgrad had ordered the Pantsir SAM systems during a visit at “Slavic Shield 2019,” on October 24, 2019. As the first exercise between the Serbian Air Defense Units and the Russian Aerospace Forces, Slavic Shield 2019 deepened joint force interoperability and served as a technology demonstrator for Belgrade. During the event, Russia airlifted a multi-layered and diverse package of SAM systems to Milenko Pavlović Air Base in Batajnica (Serbia), including a S-400 SAM system (SA-21 “Growler) and several Pantsir-S1 batteries. This allowed Serbian military officials to inspect the equipment and simulate integration into Belgrad’s air defense network. In addition to the Pantsir, President Vucinic expressed interest in the S-400, but clarified that Serbia cannot afford the system.

Serbia President Vucic at “Slavic Shield 2019” Photo: Damirir Banda, MC Odbrana

Although Belgrad has repeatedly named Russia as it main defense partner and source of military donations, an official booklet of the Serbian Ministry of Defense shows that Serbia’s main military donor is the United States. Serbia received $10 million in military assistance from the U.S. in equipment and money between 2014 and 2018. Second on the donor list is China, which has donated around € 5.2 million, followed by Norway with € 586,000, Denmark with € 494,860 and the UK with £ 169,000, respectively.

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The Drone-Type that Killed Gen. Soleimani, Now in Romania

The United States Air Force (USAF) will deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii (Cluj county), Romania. The mission, starting in January 2020, has been…

The United States Air Force (USAF) will deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii (Cluj county), Romania. The mission, starting in January 2020, has been fully coordinated with the Romanian government. Directed by the U.S. European Command’s air component, the deployment serves to promote stability and security within the region, and to strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners. The MQ-9 Reapers have been previously deployed to the 71st AB in July 2019, when they were temporarily re-positioned from their traditional staging area in Poland.

The U.S. Air Force built this hangar, which could house manned or unmanned aircraft, at Campia Turzii from October 2017 to May 2018. Documents obtained by Defense News show plans to build a hangar to accommodate medium-altitude, long-endurance drones like the MQ-9. (Valerie Insinna/ Defense News)

The U.S. Department of Defense has invested over $3 million in the modernisation of Romania’s 71st AB in the past two years. Part of the infrastructure upgrade package was the construction of a $950,000 hangar that is able to house medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drones such as the MQ-9 and support drone operations. 

The MQ-9 Reaper is one of the most advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) ever built. As a multi-role platform, the MQ-9 can perform a variety of missions, including intelligence, reconnaissance, target-aquisition and surveillance (ISTAR), ground attack, close air support (CAS), and combat search and rescue. 

While the Reaper is most known for its kinetic strikes against terrorist leaders (including IRGC-QF Gen. Soleimani on January 3) and other high-value targets, the drone is a very effective ISR/ ISTAR asset. The MQ-9’s endurance is 30 hours when conducting ISR sorties, with decreases to 14 to 23 hours (depending on the loadout) when carrying weapons. The Reaper has a 1,850 km range (1,000 nmi; 1,150 mi) and an operational ceiling of 15,000 meters (50,000 ft). It’s sensor suite includes a syntethic aperture radar and infrared forward-looking infrared, which can stream live footage at views ranging from 19mm to 560mm. 

During its stay in Romania, the MQ-9 will likely be tasked with gathering intelligence on enemy intentions and capabilities in the region. The Black Sea will be a main focus of its ISR mission, where the UAV will monitor the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) for nefarious activity, force buildup and forward deployments. The collection of Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) on Russia’s BSF activities is not only important for NATO’s Eastern flank, but also for monitoring Moscow’s force deployment to Syria. The ports of Sevastopol and Novorossysk are Russia’s main logistics bases supporting expeditionary operations in Syria, and are periodically sealifting capabilities to Tartus (Syria). 

In addition to the Black Sea, the MQ-9 will likely also fly over Eastern Ukraine. American UAVs were frequently spotted on ADS-B receivers loitering over the frontline in Donbas and Luhansk, monitoring for enemy activity (e.g. ceasefire violations, Russian supplies, tactical movements). 



When used as a striking platform, the Reaper can field a “cocktail” of weapons systems such as the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, AIM-9 “Sidewinder” air-to-air missile, GBU-38 with JDAM, and the more famous AGM-114 “Hellfire” air-to-surface missile. Due to its armament, the UAV can target and destroy light infantry, surface vessels and armored tanks. 

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