British ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Mali

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones

RAF Reg (AFP)RAF Regiment gunners, aboard a RAF C-17ER, in front of a French VAB SAN (armoured ambulance variant). Credit: AFP.

Royal Air Force (RAF) Regiment troops, possibly based out of Honington or Wittering, have been deployed to Bamako as a force protection (FP) element for RAF operations in support of the French intervention in Mali. France’s Opération Serval is being supported by two RAF C-17ER transport planes, operated by No. 99 Squadron from RAF Brize Norton. These aircraft are to ferry French armoured vehicles from the Évreux-Fauville Air Base in France, to Bamako.

Whilst the British government has claimed there will be ‘no UK boots on the ground’, that is not strictly true. In this video, RAF Regiment FP elements can be seen at Bamako Airport with a range of field kit, small arms, and other equipment. The RAF tactical recognition flash and RAF Regiment ‘mudguard’ badges can be clearly seen (see examples below). French VAB (Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé) series armoured personnel carriers are unloaded from the C-17ER. RAF regiment gunners fought alongside US Marines during the insurgent attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, last September. The attack left two US Marines of Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) dead, 6 AV-8B Harrier II ground attack aircraft destroyed, and two more damaged. Members of No. 5 RAF Regiment Force Protection Wing and elements 2/10 Battalion US Marines then fought to regain control of the airfield, capturing one insurgent, and killing fourteen others. Continue reading

More than words: Australia–Indonesia strategic relations

I’ve just returned from a trip to Jakarta so with Indonesia on my mind, it’s a good time to share some of the recent Indonesia-related posts I’ve written on The Strategist, starting with Australia’s stated defence policy on Indonesia:

Exercise Pitch Black 2012

26 September, Canberra:

Australia’s leaders from both sides of politics have been paying greater attention to Indonesia; there’s been more official engagement, as well as new diplomatic and defence initiatives in the past year. And we’ve been describing Indonesia, as our Defence Minister has during his Jakarta visit last week, in more important terms like ‘strategic partner’.

But it looks like that there’s some way to go before ‘strategic partner’ becomes more than just a term of endearment. If we look at the 2009 Defence White Paper (for the time being still the government’s defence strategic policy), we find a curious ambivalence towards Indonesia. According to the White Paper, we have a ‘fundamental interest in controlling the air and sea approaches to our continent’ (paragraph 5.5). But in reference to a secure immediate neighbourhood, it says we should prevent or mitigate ‘nearby states [from] develop[ing] the capacity to undertake sustained military operations within our approaches’ (paragraph 5.8). There’s a contradiction there; as Hugh White notes in his Security Challenges essay (PDF), it may very well be those same capabilities Indonesia requires to ensure its own security in its northern approaches that could be instrumental in both Indonesia and Australia securing their strategic interests. Continue reading

AK-103 and F2000 assault rifles in Gaza

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones

This post originally appeared at The Rogue Adventurer.

On October 2nd the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (حركة الجهاد الإسلامي في فلسطين‎), the al-Quds Brigades, took to the streets of Fatah in Southern Gaza to mark the 17th anniversary of the assassination of Fathi al-Shaqaqi. Shaqaqi was assassinated in Malta by the Mossad in 1995. Each year, the al-Quds Brigades take to the streets for a military parade to mark the event, brandishing a variety of arms and carrying all manner of banners and flags. This year’s parade, however, was a little different, and held some interesting items for those of us following the spread of various small arms. Amongst the usual assortment of Russian AKMs & Eastern Bloc copies, Chinese Type 56 variants, PKMs, and RPG-7 variants and copies were two far less common weapons: the F2000 and AK-103 assault rifles.

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A rights-based approach to women in combat

The sun sets behind a C-17 Globemaster III as Soldiers wait in line to board the aircraft taking them back to the United States Nov. 17 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. C-17s can carry payloads up to 169,000 pounds and can land on small airfields. The C-17 is deployed from the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson)

Of the Defence issues raised over the past 12 months, none has been more controversial than the government’s decision to lift a ban on gender discrimination in the military which means women are eligible to serve in close combat units, including special forces.

In Australia, we value the principles equality and fairness and the right of the individual not to be discriminated on the basis of race, religion, age or gender. But there are specific challenges to applying a rights-based approach to the profession of the arms. This is because there are strong historical and cultural legacies surrounding ideas of the military, warfare and masculinity.

Historically, the military and warzones are not imagined and understood as a context for women as soldiers. Australian women appeared in support roles such as nurses, drivers, workers, mothers and later carers of returned soldiers. In this sense, gender reform is not just about enshrining the equal rights for women in the military but must, over time, break down traditional, cultural and historical understandings of warfare, the military and masculinity.

This is challenging because in the military, while the individual is important, the “group” (that is, the military) and survival of the nation and its interests are paramount. Continue reading

Photo of the Day: TNI-AL Boarding Party during Exercise Kakadu

An Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Laut; TNI-AL) boarding party with Captain Mal Wise, Australian Commander Task Group after a simulated boarding exercise conducted on HMAS Perth (FFH 157), during Exercise KAKADU 2012. Interesting to note the integration of Indonesian Naval SOF, KOPASKA (Komando Pasukan Katak; Frogman Commando Team), operators with a regular Navy boarding party. Australian boarding parties often operate in a similar way, with members of a Clearance Diving Team attached.

KOPASKA was influenced by USN Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) and US Navy SEALs, and has roughly similar operational responsibilities, including maritime counter-terrorism. Their insignia features a winged frog and anchor device, and their motto is “Tan Hana Wighna Tan Sirna” (“there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome”).

Defence notes: “Exercise Kakadu 2012 is Australia’s largest maritime exercise and allows the RAN to develop operational capability and skills in a coalition environment. Exercise Kakadu will be conducted from 29 August to 14 September in the Northern Australian Exercise Area off the coast of Darwin.  In 2012 there will be 15 ships, and over 2000 sailors and officers from 17 participating and observing nations taking part”

Photo credits: Department of Defence

Hedging our bets in Uruzgan

SOTG in Gizab

Uruzgan police chief Matiullah Khan had nothing to lose when he joined President Karzai in criticising an ADF raid in the province.

Contradicting the official narrative, Khan and Amir Mohammad Akhundzada, governor of Uruzgan, allege they were not consulted ahead of the ANSF–ADF raid during which two Afghan men, a 70-year old iman and his 30-year old son, were killed. Furthermore, Khan says his troops were not involved as required by memoranda of understanding.

But Defence Minister Smith insists the raid targeted confirmed insurgents, and that it was partnered (80 Afghan troops to 60 ADF) and authorised. An ISAF media release states that the operation was planned and coordinated with Afghan officials, including the provincial governor.

While there are uncertainties in both stories (including whether the men were confirmed as insurgents before or after they were killed), there’s also the matter of trying to work out which side is more or less telling the truth.

We can’t assess the facts ourselves to determine who is right so we’ll have to hedge our bets one way or another. But the options are grim.

If the Minister and ISAF are telling the truth, they’ll still be backing a police chief that’s willing to lie to save his skin. To defend their facts, they’ll either have to say Khan is being dishonest or admit he lacks information about his own province. If Khan’s telling the truth, he’ll score points amongst Afghans being seen to admonish the west but, more importantly, we’ll be forced to question the credibility of our own government.

Neither option is desirable. It’s a stunning example of the double bind Australia finds itself in regarding the truth in Uruzgan. But either way, Matiullah Khan wins and we lose.

Image courtesy of Flickr user ISAFmedia.

In Brief: The Netherlands’ De Zeven Provinciën class frigates

N.R. Jenzen-Jones

HNLMS Evertsen on patrol off the Horn of Africa, as part of  NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield.

HNLMS Evertsen is one of four De Zeven Provinciën class air defence and command frigates in service with the Royal Netherlands Navy (Koninklijke Marine). Evertsen is the youngest of the four, having been completed in 2003 and commissioned in 2005. These ships superseded the two smaller Tromp class frigates, decommissioned in 1999 and 2001. Despite being classified by the Netherlands Navy as frigates, their displacement (6,050 tonnes), complement (202 + 30 aircrew), and role make them comparable to many destroyers. They are similar in these respects to the RAN’s planned Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWD).  The Netherlands Navy also intends to use the De Zeven Provinciën class in a limited Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) role, having recently awarded a contract for modification of the ships’ Thales SMART-L and APAR radars. According to an article in January’s Proceedings magazine, these modifications are expected to be complete by late 2017. It should be noted that the currently planned modifications only endow the class with the capability to detect and track ballistic missile threats, and do not provide for surface-to-air interceptor missiles.

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In Brief: Singapore’s Formidable class frigates

N.R. Jenzen-Jones
The Republic of Singapore frigate RSS Formidable (68) during a formation exercise for RIMPAC 2012.

Singapore’s Formidable class frigates are considered amongst the most advanced surface combatants in Southeast Asia. Built around a substantially modified version of the French La Fayette class, they feature an advanced stealth design incorporating a range of Radar Cross-Section (RCS) reduction features. The inclined planes of the hull and superstructures, concealment of typical ship’s equipment, low profile housings for armaments, and enclosed sensor mast are chief amongst these. The Formidable class armament includes: an Oto Melara 76mm Super Rapid naval gun, 8x RGM-84C Harpoon SSMs, and 4x 8-cell Sylver A50 VLS containing a mixture of Aster 15 and Aster 30 SAMs. The ships are also capable of firing EuroTorp A224/S Mod 3 torpedoes, and carry a Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopter with ASW equipment (they formerly operated Eurocopter AS-332M Super Pumas).

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Photo of the day: Canada in the Asian Century

Image

An excellent shot from RIMPAC 2012. Soldiers from Company A, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, move to clear a house during a Military Operations on Urban Terrain exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows.

These soldiers form part of the 1,400 person Canadian contingent at this year’s Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Canada has participated in the biennial exercise before, but this year some commentators note a few changes: this is the largest-ever contribution, and Canadians have for the first time occupied senior leadership positions within the exercise.

In their opinion, Canada’s involvement in RIMPAC parallels with increasing interest in the Asia Pacific. Others suggests greater responsibility is the product of good leadership shown in Afghanistan, Libya and Haiti.

Not knowing much about Canada and its interests in Asia, I found this Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada 2012 National Opinion Poll on Canadians’ views on Asia. With 67% of Canadians believing that in a decade the influence of China will surpass that of the US but 66% believing that China’s growing military power is a threat to the region, it’s no surprise the country is more engaged with the Asia Pacific.

For a great infographic summarising the results of the poll, click here (PDF).

Image courtesy of Flickr user PACOM.

Our new partners at CIMSEC

We’re really pleased to announce a new partnership with the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). The Center is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank based in the US. It brings together forward-thinkers from a variety of fields to examine the capabilities, threats, hotspots, and opportunities for security in the maritime domain.

This partnership allows both our organisations to foster discussion and interaction between scholars, military officers and the general public in both our countries on areas of mutual security interest.

We encourage you to visit their excellent blog NextWar which will, from time to time, feature cross posts from Security Scholar and other partner blogs.

Image courtesy of Flickr user DVIDSHUB.