A Beech 200T (BE20) Super King Air aircraft outbound from Constanta (Romania) is currently flying Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sorties near the Russia-backed separatist republic of Transnistria (Moldova). The 200T…
A Beech 200T (BE20) Super King Air aircraft outbound from Constanta (Romania) is currently flying Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sorties near the Russia-backed separatist republic of Transnistria (Moldova). The 200T variant of the twin-turboprop aircraft is configured with a surveillance radar pod and vertical photography systems for aerial surveillance and reconnaissance. Based on initial observations, the BE20 calibrated its flight profile at a low-altitude of 3,000 meters and commenced with “donut rounds,” after reaching Transnistria’s northern edge. A typical BE20 low-altitude ISR mission takes approximately 5 hours.
BE20 Flight (and 3D view) screen-grab from a public flight tracker via T-Intelligence
The ISR sortie, likely conducted by the U.S. Navy/Army, suggests significant nefarious activity on part of Russia in the breakaway Transnistria region. Russia has maintained a 1,200 troop presence in Transnistria since the 1992 conflict with the Republic of Moldova.
The ISR is most likely collecting imagery intelligence on the recent activities of the Operational Group of the Russian Forces in Transnistria (OGRF-T). Military drills have been vaguely announced for mid-February and on February 4, the Russian Defense Ministry informed the public that the OGRF-T has finalised preparations. U.S. ISR sorties have been spotted periodically in January and almost daily between February 4 and 7. The Russian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that the OGRF-T has conducted high-calibre firing drills from late January to February 1. The drills are part of a series of exercises organized in the Western Military District. Overall, the OGRF-T have increased their activities in Transnistria in 2017 and 2018, causing the Moldovan government push for the removal of foreign forces at the United Nations.
Edited by Gecko
DISCLAIMER: As the BE20 appears on flight trackers, the sortie is an intentionally public maneuver.
1. In 2017, Romania announced a visionary defence procurement program that will reinforce NATO’s Eastern flank and make the Romanian military a leading force in the Black Sea by the…
1. In 2017, Romania announced a visionary defence procurement program that will reinforce NATO’s Eastern flank and make the Romanian military a leading force in the Black Sea by the early 2020s. The $11.6 billion shopping list includes top-of-the-line products such as Raytheon’s latest Patriot air defense system. The assets are specifically tailored to counter the Russian threat in the Black Sea – namely Russia’s naval supremacy, anti-access area denial (A2/AD) capabilities and theater ballistic missiles (TBM) deployed in Crimea.
2. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 has shaken the Black Sea region from its century-long geopolitical slumber. Moscow’s military build-up in Crimea – only 400 km from the Romanian coast – has transformed the Black Sea into a substantial missile engagement and interdiction zone, placing the region at the very top of NATO’s agenda.
3. The Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) and Russian Navy (RuN) currently operate more than 15 naval and air bases in Crimea. The port of Sevastopol hosts the RuN’s 30,000 men strong Black Sea Fleet (BSF), which is responsible for operations in the Black Sea, Azov Sea and the Mediterranean.
4. Concerned about the mounting Russian presence at its doorstep, Romania has welcomed a number of strategic U.S. and NATO military installations on its soil. Over the past years, Bucharest has reliably allocated 2% of its GDP to defense in order to boost its naval warfare, missile strike and air defense capabilities. In all three areas, the Romanian Ministry of National Defense (MoND) has made significant progress.
VISUAL COMPARISON: Drag the bar left to see how Romania's defense procurement will change the regional air defense and artillery outlook
5. Russia strives to establish naval supremacy in the Black Sea. The BSF currently consists of 47 warships and seven submarines, most of which are stationed in the strategic city-port of Sevastopol and the Novorossiysk auxiliary naval air base. While the fleet is largely outdated, around 18 new or modernized warships are expected to join the BSF by 2020.
6. Even in its current state, the Russian BSF holds strike superiority in both surface and subsurface naval warfare. All major vessels stationed in Crimea are equipped with standoff range anti-ship missiles (ASM) and anti-submarine weapons (ASW). The naval assets are supported by land-based (road-mobile, naval infantry and coastal batteries) and airborne (mostly Mi-14, Mi-24 and Su-30) ASM/ASW units. The large number and variety of surface and subsurface missiles pose an acute threat to NATO and the neighboring countries.
7. Consequently, Romania promised to prioritize naval defence procurement. The Romanian Navy’s (RoN) surface warfare capabilities will be enhanced by the acquisition of four multi-purpose corvettes, worth $2 billion, and an unspecified number of naval strike missile (NSM) coastal defense batteries. Two existing Type-22 corvettes, the Regele Ferdinand and Regina Maria, will be modernized in the course of the same program. The corvettes are scheduled for commission between 2021 and 2023.
8. The missile type deployed on the new assets will be a decisive factor for the success of the surface warfare program. Given the BSF’s mass proliferation of supersonic anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles (such as the Kalibr), the RoN has to arm its corvettes with adequate shipborne interceptors and high-frequency surface wave radars. As Raytheon’s RIM-62 Evolved SeaSparrow is designed to counter supersonic manuveuring anti-ship missiles, it would be an obvious choice for the Romanian corvettes.
9. While the corvettes will be an important addition on the surface, the RoN remains critically under-equipped for subsurface warfare in the short to medium term. The MoND’s ambitious submarine program aims to build three submarines and modernize the only existing one, the Kilo-class Delfinul, which is currently used for training. However, the lack of financial resources and technological know-how render it highly unlikely that Romania will commence with the submarine program before 2026.
10. The RoN’s seaborne (surface and subsurface) capabilities will be augmented by the Romanian Air Force (RoAF), which is responsible for policing the maritime airspace. In the past years, the Romanian maritime airspace has been repeatedly violated by the Russian Aerospace Force (RuAF) - especially when the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet and NATO’s Maritime Standing Group 1 and 2 conduct semi-permanent sea patrols in the region and dock in Romanian ports.
11. Currently, Romania’s airspace is protected by a NATO air policing mission. In order to strengthen its own air policing capabilities, Romania has purchased twelve F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Portuguese Air Force. The F-16s are expected to become operational in the beginning of next year. The acquisition of another batch of 36 F-16s A/B is scheduled for 2019.
12. While the F-16 A/B Fighting Falcon with the Mid-Life Update is a good choice for basic mission profiles such as air policing and ground attack, it does not sufficiently threaten Russia’s Anti-Access/ Area Denial (A2AD) zone in Crimea. The RoAF would have required fourth generation fighter jets or the latest block versions of the F-16, capable of carrying anti-radiation missiles (ARM) and standoff air-launched cruise missiles, in order to credibly challenge the Russian air defenses.
ANTI-ACCESS/ AREA DENIAL (A2AD)
13. The Russian forces in Crimea are safeguarded by a robust, multi-layered and augmented network of integrated area and point air defenses. Three Russian divisions in Crimea operate the S-400 Triumf (SA-21), the latest Russian SAM technology. The S-400 Triumf creates an impenetrable area air defense (AAD) cover, capable of parrying multiple airborne assets, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in a 400 km radius. Furthermore, numerous S-300 (SA-20) SAM systems are scattered throughout the region, providing an additional AAD layer. A very high, but unknown number of Pantsir S-1s (SA-22), BUKs (SA-11), 9k33 Osa (SA-8 Gecko) and anti aircraft artillery (AAA) provide point air defense (PAD) for military installations, artillery batteries and SAM sites.
14. The ground-based air defenses in Crimea are supported by a layer of electronic warfare (EW) and EW-countermeasure (EWCM) systems. The Russian tip-of-the-spear EW capability is the Krasukha 2/4, which is able to jam communications, low earth orbit spy satellites, missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). As EWCM, the Russians have installed radars that provide frequency diversity across the Crimean peninsula and interlink with the AAD and PAD layers.
15. A Podsolnukh over-the-horizon radar stationed on Crimea’s Southwestern coast furthermore provides early warning data, reaching as far as the Bosphorus. Supported by airborne and seaborne radars, the BSF can thus detect and - in case of war - rapidly engage adversaries entering the Black Sea.
16. In response to Russia’s A2/AD zone, Romania saw it necessary to acquire a long-range rocket artillery system capable of contesting Russian air defenses in Crimea. In order to pose a credible threat, the artillery system has to be battle-proven, technologically superior to its competitors and able to fire smart and cluster munition with a range of 400 km. As the U.S. High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) ticks all these boxes, Romania has placed a $1.5 billion order for 54 HIMARS and ammunition.
17. The HIMARS is the Pentagon’s long-range artillery of choice in the hottest conflicts. The system is currently stationed near the 38th parallel (South Korea) and the al-Tanf garrison (Syria) and is used to engage ISIS and Taliban targets in Syria and Afghanistan. After receiving its HIMARS batteries in 2019, Romania will be the first European operator of the system. The coast-based Romanian Marines Regiment will likely receive most of the HIMARS batteries, bringing the Western coast of Crimea within range.
19. With its range of 450km, the Iskander-M directly threatens Southeastern Romania, where a number of high-value U.S., NATO, and Romanian military and command structures are located:
The NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU) for the NATO Response Force - Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (NRF-VJTF) in Bucharest;
The U.S. operated Mihail Kogalniceanu air base and the Babadag, Capu Midia and Smardan training ranges;
The RoAF’s 86th air base in Borcea - a NATO-interoperable airfield that hosts Romania’s F-16 squadron;
The RoN’s command headquarters for river boat patrol (Tulcea, Braila), the corvette squadron (Mangalia) and the frigate flotilla (Constanta).
20. To counter the Russian missile-threat, Romania has ordered seven MIM-104 Patriot 3 (PAC-3) long-range SAM systems manufactured by Raytheon. The PAC-3 is the latest configuration of the Patriot system. The PAC-3 updates are based on more than 20 years of U.S. battlefield experience and feedback from 13 foreign customers. The $3.9 billion order will be delivered to the Romanian Land Forces and the RoN in 2019.
21. The PAC-3 is highly efficient against evasive and fast-moving TBMs such as the Iskander-M and the Kalibr (in all versions). The PAC-3 batteries fire rockets equipped with Missile Segment Enhancements (MSE) to intercept and destroy enemy TBMs in their terminal phase. The MSE increases velocity, extends the flight range by 50% and has a lethality enhancer warhead to guarantee hit-to-kill performance. For now, Romania has ordered 165 MSEs for the newly acquired PAC-3 batteries.
22. The PAC-3 uses a passive AN/MPQ-65 radar, which is difficult to target for enemy anti-radiation missiles (ARM). The AN/MPQ-65 radar can track over 100 targets at high-altitude, without emitting signals that radar-homing missiles can lock on. This capability potentially discourages adversarial Suppression/ Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (S/DEAD) sorties.
23. The PAC-3 batteries will form an area air defense (AAD) barrier over Southeastern Romania, which will cover the highly populated and strategically important region. The PAC-3 AADs will receive short and medium-range point-area defense (PDA) from Romania’s existing SAMs and anti-aircraft artillery such as the MIM-23 Hawk and Soviet-made assets. Ultimately, the Romanian AAD and PAD bubbles will be linked with the U.S.-operated Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system. Together, the systems will provide a reliable, multi-layered, and integrated air defense network for NATO’s Eastern flank.
24. In summary: Romania’s recent defense acquisitions create an air interdiction bubble, augmented by deep strike artillery systems capable of reaching Crimea. Naval warfare enhancements and air force assets further strengthen Romania’s growing military role in the Black Sea and pose a credible deterrent against potential Russian aggressions.
UPDATE December 31, 2018: Despite its considerable potential, Romania’s defence procurement program remains threatened by corruption and political games. The ruling Social Democratic Party, known as Romania’s corruption “firebrand”, has already meddled with the corvette acquisition contracts, leading to the cancelation of the bids and the forced resignation of the Defense Minister.
by HARM and Gecko
This assessment does not include the products ordered by the Romanian Land Forces (RLF). The RLF is currently operationalizing the first 12 of the total 227 8x8 Piranha V infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) purchased from General Dynamics. Starting in 2020, the land forces will also receive 347 8x8 Agilis vehicles (armored transporter, amphibious and IFV variants) jointly produced by the Romanian Military Vehicle Systems and Rheinmetall Defense.
Strategic Analysis – Saber Guardian 2017 (SG17) is an annual, multinational exercise held in the Black Sea region as pat of the U.S. European Command Joint Exercise Program. This year’s…
Strategic Analysis – Saber Guardian 2017 (SG17) is an annual, multinational exercise held in the Black Sea region as pat of the U.S. European Command Joint Exercise Program. This year’s iteration took place between July 11 – 20. The exercise’s aim was to assure allies and partners of the enduring U.S. commitment to the collective defense at the Black Sea region, to enable the Alliance’s command and control functions, and to reinforce deterrence measures agreed to by NATO allies at the Warsaw Summit in 2016. The exercise was organized by the U.S. Army Europe and co-hosted by Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, that saw numerous drills and simulations taking place all over these countries.
Approximate 25,000 troops participated in the exercise, while 14,000 of them being U.S.forces; the rest coming from member or partners countries of NATO: Armenia, Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, FYRO Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
Throughout this analysis we explore the Saber Guardian exercise through the ‘Swift Response’ mission that took place at the 71st ‘Emanoil Ionescu’ Air Base in the village of Luna, near Campia Turzii town, Cluj county (Romania), where Transylvania Intelligence was present obtain exclusive footage and information. Moreover, the massive military effort will later in this article be explained through the geopolitical lens as it relates to the Black Sea, as ‘Saber Guardian’ upholds its exclusive dedicated nature for this expanded region.
‘Swift Response’: a ‘Saber Guardian’ exercise
Swift Response is a series of airborne operations and joint force entries that functions within the framework of ‘Saber Guardian’ and took place in Papa Airbase (Hungary), Bezmer & Shabia (Bulgaria) and Campia Turzii-Luna & Cincu (Romania).
The mission that Transylvania Intelligence had the chance to assist to, took place from the 21st to the 22nd of July, 2017 in Luna, near Campia Turzii, Cluj county, Romania, at the 71st ‘Emanoil Ionescu’ Airbase of the Romanian Air Force. The employed scenario foresaw an Allied operation to attack and capture the airbase that was occupied by enemy forces. The operation involved 800 U.S. Troops from the 143rd Texas Regiment and the 2nd Cavarly Regiment, and it stretched on three main phases, the first two referring to the ‘Joint Forcible Entry’ while the last to the ‘Airfield Seizure’ objective:
1.For 3-minutes, eight AC-130’s parachuted hardware, supplies and logistics at 11.00 A.M., July 21st on a plain-field near the Airbase. These resources were to be collected by units already on the ground and be used in the airfield seizure.
2.Later that day, a night airborne operation took place around 23.00 A.M, that saw 500 paratroopers insert the area previously used to deploy the supplies. These forces regrouped with friendly troops on the ground and used the collected logistics to prepare and later execute the main objective: ‘Airfield Seizure’
3.Around 4.00 AM, July 22nd, the joint Romanian-US force conducted a dawn raid on the airbase that lasted 4 hours and saw the capture of strategic 71st Base.
The exercise was deemed as a huge success in regards to accomplishing the planned timeline, maneuvers and tactics. This scenario was one of the vastly different and creative operations sketched throughout the ‘Saber Guardian’ framework. Other missions that enabled or took place within ‘Saber Guardian were:
Szentes Axe, Danube crossing in Gyor, Hungary, U.S. and Hungarian troops;
Olt crossing in Bordusani, Romania U.S. and Romanian troops;
Night crossing of Olt, Valcea, Romania, U.S. and Romanian troops;
Live Fire Exercise at Novo Selo training field, Bulgaria;
A Mass Casualty and Air Defense exercise at Mihail Kogalniceanul Airfield, Romania.
Other parallel exercises that enabled and supported ‘Saber Guardian’ as presented by the U.S. Army Europe – see the last map.
Black Sea Region: An emerging strategic vector?
The Black Sea region has a unique tradition and history as a geopolitical entity. It was in the 18th Century when the Ottoman Empire lost its hegemony over this sea as a direct result of the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca (1774) that gave the Russian Empire access to its first warm water port in the Black Sea, and the status of protector of the Orthodox Christians living under the Sublime Porte. The Ottoman-Russian rivalry is directly linked to these area , and spilled-over to the Balkans and to the Caucasus, attracting external inputs that tried to maintain a balance of power in the region, or internal elements that marched to form their own states and movements. As it was the case of the Crimean War of 1853-1856, when France and the United Kingdom intervened in favor of the Ottoman Empire in order to defeat Russia and avoid a hegemony over the region by Sankt-Petersburg.
The Black Sea was also a significant front in the First World War when the Ottoman Navy engaged the Russian ships stationed in Sevastopol. But while witnessing a declining importance in the Second World War, the Black Sea region essentially vanished as a geopolitical entity in the Cold War. The traditional Turkish-Russian balance of power disappeared and instead, a Soviet and Warsaw Pact hegemony was installed. However, the situation changed when the URSS collapsed, despite the Russian Federation’s desperate attempts to conduct damage control over its ex-territories. One one hand, Moscow saw how its strategic territories as Crimea taken away, how ex-Soviet Republics, as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or ex-Warsaw Pact allies, notably Poland, Romania, became hardened Euro-Atlantists that integrated in NATO, the European Union and called for a significant increase of U.S. troops on the Eastern Flank.
The critical ‘belt’ that Moscow looked after was its ex-Soviet Republics. While enjoying a friendly government in Kiev and Minsk for most of the time, the Romanian sentiment swiftly grew in Moldova upon assuming its independence in 1991, which triggered an immediate Russian invasion. While not managing to fully subdue Chisinau, a breakaway region was created east of the Dnister that would hold a perpetual leverage over the country. The Republic of Transnistira still hosts today thousands of Russian troops from the 14th Army. Similar interventions also took place in Azerbaijan (much more indirectly) or Georgia, a conventional invasion that sought to cripple the small republic’s future of joining NATO. After the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, two breakaway republics were formed under Moscow’s direct military and political foothold: South Ossetia and Abkhazia; these regions still host a number of Russian basses and thousands of troops eyeing Tbilisi. Then, came the 2007 cyber attacks on Estonia that crippled the country’s infrastructure.
However, the Black Sea began to fully resurface as a geopolitical battleground when Russia lost Ukraine. After the radical decision by the Yanukovitch government to go ahead with the E.U. association protocol, protests from Moscow made the government reverse the decision, but instead stirred massive street movements in Kiev and all over the country. The crisis of 2014 escalated when the government began shooting at the over 1 million demonstrators in the main square of the capital. In support of the ‘Euromaidan’ movement came opposition parties, the United States and the European Union. And as Yanukovitch flew to Russia in an attempt to escape the angry population, it became clear the Ukraine was now radically driving out of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence and into the Euro-Atlantic one.
Vladimir Putin ordered a seizure of Crimea in yet another attempt of damage control of it’s weakening influence. Under a strict political deniability complemented by an ambiguous informational campaign, topped by targeted cyber and electronic warfare, Russian forces stationed in Sevastopol alongside incoming troops from the mainland managed to encircle Ukraine bases in the peninsula. And under a mock-referendum guarded by the Russian troops and local separatist groups, the population of Crimea, indeed overwhelmingly ethnic Russian, voted in favor of uniting with the Russian Federation.
A similar strategy was applied in Eastern Ukraine, in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, but given the immense Euro-Atlantic support for the Ukrainian Army, and without a doubt, the fierce resistance put by the National Guard and Armed Forces at Mariupol, Ukraine managed to keep the Kremlin in check, and contain the malign separatist conflict. Through the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) and the LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic) Russian attempted to create a land bridge to Crimea. And from there, according the Vladirim Putin’s speech, to form a New Russia (Novorossyia) for all the Russian speaking people in Ukraine – from Harkov, through the Black Sea littoral (Prychornomoria) and that of the Azov Sea (Pryazovia), including Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts, all the way to Odessa Oblast.The two hybrid republics, LPR and DPR formally formed the Federation of Novorossyia in 2014; this ended in January 2015 after it failed to expand the project. Attempts of Russian separatist movements were made in Odessa (strategic to this plan) and all over the Russian-speaking regions, however, those have failed to escalate and evolve in armed uprisings similar to what caused the crisis and the de facto succession in Eastern Ukraine
The combination of international pressure and fierce resistance from Kiev, managed to cancel Novorossiya; at least for now. The self-declaration of ‘Little Russia’ (Malorossyia) as an independent state, made by the leader of DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, draw hostilities (at least publicly) from the LPR and Moscow, dully because it might have been a sign of abandonment of the larger, grand project for a patch of stable influence. Althought Kiev is still facing with a fragile and status quo-friendly treaty, the Minsk Agreement 2, and a potential volatile breakaway territory in the east, it’s maintaining its path of Euro-Atlantisism; with U.S. forces regularly conducting joint drills in the western region and on the seaboard, while cooperation with the E.U. is unprecedented.
The Black Sea region has recently emerged as a potential energy hub in regards to natural gas and even oil. The underwater deep shells have attracted interests from the biggest energy investors as Lukoil, OMV and Exxon Mobil to contract the licenses. After years of research and drilling, Romania’s maritime shell was confirmed and estimated at around 20 billion metric cubes of gas, enough to make the already energy sufficient country, a gas exporter. Together with Exxon Mobil, Bucharest will begin to exploit the deposit as of 2018. On the other side, Russian companies are already drilling into the shells near Crimea, and could have extended more if Odessa entered the separatist project, and would have changed the Black Sea’s exclusive economic zones in Moscow’s favor. Such a move would have offered Russia the opportunity to contest Romania’s maritime exclusivity and claim the deep water gas deposits thanks to an island, the Snake’s Island, that sits within the Romanian EEZ and next to XXI Pelican shell, but belongs to Ukraine.
Additional military moves from Moscow are expected in NATO’s maritime perimeter. And as both Bulgaria and Romania suffer from an outdated, weakened and underwhelming military force, a stronger NATO presence is needed in the area. Romania’s sole objective at the 2016’s Warsaw Summit was to receive support for a Black Sea Fleet framework to be formed within the Alliance. Given Bulgaria’s opposition, skeptical of military build-ups in the area, Bucharest only received a multinational battlegroup in Craiova, formed by American, British, Polish and Bulgarian troops. But Washington’s aid had doubled in size in regards to military and political cooperation. Furthermore, the latest two National Security Strategies of Romania named as an objective for the country to become ‘a strategic vector of the Black Sea’.
Black Sea region exercises; source: U.S. Army Europe press kit
Saber Guardian, the largest exercise ever held in the Black Sea area was organized by U.S. Army Europe and co-hosted by Hungary (logistic hub for south-east Europe), Romania and Bulgaria. It massed 25,000 troops in additional to the already many ongoing exercises by NATO in the area. All the simulated scenarios tested, subjected crisis situations and responsive actions to aggression emanating from the Black Sea. It simulated how logistics could be swiftly transferred from the main U.S. military hubs in Germany, to coordination centers in Hungary and then to the hypothetical frontlines of Romania and Bulgaria. It tested and exercised inter-operability and battle-space versatility, in critical and diverse missions as: air defense operations, mass casualty situations, seizures and counter-offensives; taking place in diverse regional realms, from the Hungarian Danube, to the Romanian plains or Carpathian mountains, to the Black Sea’s ports or waters.
Black Sea Area Support Team (ex- Joint Task Force-East), the operational unit within U.S. Army Europe, that deals with Romania and Bulgaria, had its most busy days from its founding in 2007. Together with local allies, it attempts to stop the maritime area from becoming a ‘Russian Lake’, as an ex-Romanian President once referred to Russia’s resurgent posture in the Black Sea. The region is one of the few that indeed resurfaced after decades of strategic ‘sterilization’ into a vital geopolitical vector.
‘I’m thrilled to join you today, and I want everyone to know that the United States supports your bold efforts. […] America will be your strongest ally and steadfast partner…
‘I’m thrilled to join you today, and I want everyone to know that the United States supports your bold efforts. […] America will be your strongest ally and steadfast partner in this truly historic initiative.’ Donald J. Trump, opening remarks at the Three Seas Initiative Summit, Warsaw, Poland on July 6th, 2017.
In the context of degrading ties between Ankara and Washington, two independent sources told EurActiv.com that the United States has started transferring nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania. The…
In the context of degrading ties between Ankara and Washington, two independent sources told EurActiv.com that the United States has started transferring nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania. The geopolitical implications, Romania’s rising role, the nuke’s technical details and whether there’s truth behind it, will be the main explored topics of this analysis.
The nuclear weapons were stationed in Incirlik Air Base near Adana in Turkey, just 100 km from the Syrian border. The precise location had a great strategic depth as the nukes were close to Iran, Russia and other possible hostile threats from Asia, or even Africa. But given the current Turkish state of affairs, the safest decision was to move them. Nukes cannot be activated without having the cryptic system, which is actually a code of which pieces need to be provided by different individuals from the Government, including the US President. But the nuclear assets can be compromised in case the need to use them. After the Coup, Incirlik was shut down, power cut off and US soldiers were forbidden to leave. Turkish officers were supervising them, while the commander of the base through many high commanding officers were arrested for supporting the Coup.
Moreover, yesterday the rumor of the nukes being moved to Romania began flowing in the Romanian Press. Even ex-President Traian Basescu has been asked about such a possible scenario. Today the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs has denied the rumors, but then again, that’s the playbook. There’s never ever going to be a confirmation.
Not even the nukes in Incirlik Air Base were confirmed. But being stationed there for such a long time, information got leaked and independent studies were undertaken, so things got clear . It could be months, years, until we get a similar feeling about the US nukes being stationed in Romania. But following recent tensions between the US and Turkey, such a move was more than expected.
Aegis Shield System located in Deveselu, Romania
The same site, EurActiv.com has informed that the new home for the nukes is the Deveselu base, located in southern Romania. The base also shelters an Aegies anti-shield system build by the US to intercept any ballistic missile, especially those containing warheads. At this year’s Warsaw Summit, the Aegis system got incorporated in NATO’s anti-missiles defense infrastructure. Having underground silos and a modern state of the art infrastructure to secure it, such a location is perfect to hide nukes. NATO’s nuclear capacity is heavily dependent on the US deposit thereby such a move is critical for Alliance defense also.
But what about other geopolitical implications? Well.. Strategically, this is a setback for the US, the location of Incirlik gave access to the Mediterranean Sea, Caucasus and the Middle East (even bordering Iran) while keeping a reasonable distance to the Black Sea. It was a textbook geo-strategic placement. But in the given situation, the Pentagon’s contingency planners pointed that Romania was the closes stable Ally to place the nukes in that hold all the necessary ingredients for become a nuclear host.. Romania has no nationalist movement, no extremists parties going mainstream, while not a successful economy, it is nonetheless a stable one, with even the biggest economical growth in the EU 2016 in Q2, and it’s currently undergoing a military modernization. It has access to the Black Sea, a huge interests in deterring Russia and also in protecting the Republic of Moldova from any Russian incursions. It also benefits from the US-funded Aegis Ashore anti-missile shield system, which is one of the most modern pieces of equipment that NATO holds. In the past, Romania has also hosted a CIA black site where Al-Qaeda operatives were interrogated and detained.
The rumor could also be a black swan thrown into the internet by a Russian disinformation campaign to damage the image of the Deveselu Air Base, which even so has retained a lot of negative and threatening reactions from Moscow when it was opened or during its construction.
However, if proven true, this move transforms Romania from a stable regional partner with Eastern European security ramifications, into an international strategic ally. Poland and Romania were considered by the Pentagon as being America’s greatest security allies in Eastern Europe, but under this circumstances, the later gets a bigger boost. Romania became a nuclear host country which indeed makes it a double target for Russia in case of a war, but then again, why wouldn’t it be a target for Moscow? Romania is one of the hardest accessible countries for Russia; Hungary is in good relations, especially economical, with Russia, Bulgarian institutions are compromised as showed when Sofia vetoed the Romanian-initiative NATO fleet in the Black Sea; while Moldova is rotten by Russian influence, even if recently it began shifting away from it under Romanian patronage.
The US nuclear arsenal based in Europe is mostly comprised of B61 warheads, also referred to it as “silver bullet”. It is an intermediate-yield strategic and tactical nuclear weapon featuring a two-stage radiation implosion design. However these bombs are designed to be drooped by bombers and fighter jets (aerial assets), not launched from silos. The Deveselu Aegis Ashore System from Romania doesn’t have any runways for air assets to land or take-off. The system was designed to work in co-op with an installation in Poland, a US Navy ship in the Mediterranean and an Early Warning System in Turkey, in order to intercept hostile threats. The system from its making is purely defensive and has no offensive capacity. So if the nukes are to be stationed in Deveselu, Romania, then the purpose is to deposite (no data on nuclear security capacity in Deveselu) them for a short term. The missiles could never be launched from that base.
Be advised, this report/ rumor should be taken with a grain of salt as Romanian officials denies it and it’s reported just by one source (although trustworthy) that is quoting anonymous sources.
However, even if it’s actually true, it should also be expected that the location of nukes will never ever be confirmed or revealed. It will be total deniability.
Russia will begin it’s informational attack on Romania in the following days; internet trolls, fake accounts and huge amount of spam will invade Romanian online pages with anti-US/ anti-NATO messages. It is expected that the Russians will have a very aggressive and flooding approach as this is a majorly important issue for them.
While the US lost a great geo-strategic placement moving it out of Incirlik, the new host country, Romania, is not only close to Ukraine where Russia annexed Crimea and invaded Donbas, but also to Transdnister, where Russian troops with a de facto separatists Government also operates. Another Kremlin-response could come from these parts.
More US-investments in Romanian defense infrastructure are expected in order to enhance every details for securing nuclear assets. However, if this placement is temporarily or on long term, it remains to be seen.
UPDATE #1:It seems that there is another confirmation. Israeli Private Intelligence and Security News Service “DEBKA File” also confirms that the US has began moving its nukes to Romania after the Turks requested to take control of the arsenal. They also inform that Russian jets could also use the Incirlik Air Base.
UPDATE #2: There are currently 3 hypothesis: a Russian disinformation campaign (they’ve been trying to discredit the defense-only Deveselu base for years), a true report but just a temporary storage, or a total-complete lie.
UPDATE #3: Romanian officials continue to firmly deny this story. NATO said however that US allies must ensure that “all components of NATO’s nuclear deterrent remain safe, secure, and effective”. While the Pentagon stated that the US policy is to not infirm or confirm any news of its nuclear weapons.