Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible (SPSS) watercraft (NSI News Source Info) August 11, 2008: The amount of cocaine moving through the Western Hemisphere Transit Zone (WHTZ) in calendar year 2007 increased from 1,022 metric tons in CY 2006 to 1,421 metric tons in CY 2007. Removals of cocaine loads in transit by interdiction forces increased from 256 metric tons to an all-time record high of 316 metric tons. Despite this notable increase, the removal rate, i.e., removals as a percentage of total movement, remains in the low twenty percent range. This is well below the national target of 40 percent, suggesting that there remains much room for continued improvement. Sixty-eight percent of the cocaine moving through the transit zone transited the Eastern Pacific in 2007; twenty-one percent passed through the Western Caribbean; ten percent was smuggled through the Central Caribbean and less than one percent was shipped directly to the United States.
Most drugs departing Colombia go by sea -- either "go-fast" boats, fishing vessels, commercial shipping, or the relatively new method of Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible watercraft (SPSS). Typically, in the eastern Pacific, fishing vessels carrying multi-ton loads of cocaine depart Colombian and Ecuadorian Pacific coast ports for delivery points along the Central American or Mexican coast. In the Caribbean, high-speed "go-fast" vessels, hauling as much as two metric tons of cocaine at a time, leave Colombia 's north coast for delivery points in the eastern Caribbean, or hug the Central American coastline in their track north to points along the Central American and Mexican coastlines. A fishing vessel operation can last up to six weeks, while go-fast operations run normally one or two days. The number of go-fast boats involved in smuggling has increased substantially in the past few years. Such craft are small, very fast, nearly invisible to radar, and difficult to see in daylight. To counter the go-fast threat, the Coast Guard has acquired new equipment and developed capabilities to use armed helicopters, over-the-horizon cutter boats, and non-lethal vessel-stopping technologies.
The seizure in 2000 of a partially constructed, 100-foot submarine outside the city of Bogota reflected the versatility and financial resources of Colombian drug traffickers. Had it been completed, this submarine would have been capable of transporting up to ten metric tons of cocaine to the United States, about five percent of annual US demand, while remaining at snorkel depth the entire trip. With an estimated total cost of 20 million dollars, this demonstrated trafficker resources and ingenuity. Colombian cocaine trafficking groups generate billions of dollars in revenues each year, resources that increasingly have been used to purchase the best talent and technology available on the world market. While smaller semi-submersible vessels had been seized in the past, as of 2000 drug law enforcement officials did not believe that "drug submarines" are likely to become a significant threat or a common mode used to transport drugs.
But tn recent years, drug trafficking organizations started using Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible watercraft (SPSSs) to transport large amounts of cocaine from Colombia to Central America, Mexico, and ultimately the United States. SPSSs are similar to submarines in that they can operate with a significant portion of their hull below the waterline, which makes them hard to detect. A submersible vessel is a vessel that is capable of operating below the surface of the water, and includes manned and unmanned watercraft. A semi-submersible vessel is any watercraft constructed or adapted to be capable of putting much of its bulk under the surface of the water. SPSS vessels are made of fiberglass, typically are less than 100 feet in length, and can carry up to five passengers and over 13 tons. They travel at speeds of up to 12 knots (14 miles per hour); they can travel from the north coast of South America to the southeastern U.S. without refueling.
SPSS vessels represent an increasingly significant threat to safety and security. Carefully ballasted and well camouflaged, they ride so low in the water that they are nearly impossible to detect visually or by radar at any range greater than 3,000 yards. The vessels, which look like a cross between a submarine and a cigarette boat, can be both manned and operated remotely, and can transport multi-ton loads of cocaine and other illicit cargo to the US. The production quality and operational capabilities of these vessels steadily improved, allowing traffickers to move more product with greater stealth. The distances these vessels can travel without support are allowing traffickers greater flexibility when planning potential drop locations.
US Coast Guard, Navy and Customs and Border Protection crews interdicted and boarded a self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel loaded with an estimated $352 million of cocaine on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007. The vessel was spotted by a US Customs and Border patrol aircraft on routine patrol in the area. A joint U.S. Navy-US Coast Guard crew from the USS DeWert rescued four suspected drug smugglers and retrieved 11 bales of cocaine that bobbed to the surface.
After just 23 total SPSS events between 2000 and 2007, drug trafficking organizations conducted at least 45 SPSS transits during the first six months of FY 2008. SPSS account for 32% of all maritime cocaine flow in the transit zone. In 2007 a “ship building” site was discovered in the Colombian jungle where five semi-submersibles were under construction – each with a capacity to bring several tons of cocaine into the United States. The Coast Guard seized more than 350,000 pounds of cocaine at sea in 2007, worth an estimated street value of more than 4.7 billion dollars.
The Coast Guard estimates that SPSS encounters had skyrocketed in recent years. Between 2001 and 2007, 23 identified SPSS drug smuggling events occurred. But between just October 1, 2007 and February 1, 2008, a reported 27 SPSS events resulted in an estimated 111 tons of cocaine being delivered. The Coast Guard predicts 85 SPSS events in fiscal year 2008 will carry 340 tons of cocaine.
Success against this emerging threat required a multi-faceted approach, including: international cooperation and coordination; a persistent patrol presence in the transit zone; active intelligence gathering and sharing; and effective legislation to facilitate prosecution. The Mexican Navy’s interdiction notwithstanding, the overwhelming majority of SPSS interdictions result in the successful scuttling of the vessel with its entombed cargo of cocaine. When the vessel operators realize they have been spotted by law enforcement, they can open a valve and scuttle the SPSSs by quickly flooding the watercraft. As a result, the SPSSs and any drugs on board quickly sink to an unrecoverable depth. The 3 to 4 man crew then jumps overboard. Since no narcotics are recovered, they avoid prosecution and law enforcement can only rescue them and return them to land. Absent contraband evidence, there were few practical options under U.S. law to pursue prosecution. The U.S. and its partners have the ability to aggressively pursue and interdict SPSS vessels, but it was the legislative piece that was missing.
The Bush Administration strongly supported legislation to make the operation of or embarkation in a stateless self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessel on international voyages a felony. In June 2008, legislation was introduced in both the House and the Senate that would enable U.S. prosecutions of SPSS smugglers and crew members even if they successfully scuttle the vessel and all drug evidence is destroyed. Similar legislation was included in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2008. Each of these measures enjoyed strong bipartisan support.
H.R. 6295 prohibits the intentional operation of a submersible or semi-submersible water vessel that is without identifiable nationality and is navigating into, through, or from waters in an adjacent country's territorial seas. According to the bill, a vessel’s identity can be claimed with documents carried on board the vessel, verbal identification, or by flying a country's flag or ensign. The bill makes such an act, or conspiring to commit such an act, punishable by no more than 20 years of imprisonment. This legislation was introduced by Representative Daniel Lungren (R-CA) on June 18, 2008. The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, but was never considered. H.R. 6295 was passed on the floor of the House on July 29, 2008.
On July 29, 2008 U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs and the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, introduced the Drug Trafficking Interdiction Assistance Act of 2008 (S.3351), legislation designed to help disrupt drug trafficking by criminalizing the use of unregistered, un-flagged submersible or semi-submersible vessels in international waters whose operators intend to evade detection. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined Sen. Biden in introducing this bill, which would give authorities a new tool to go after the drug lords who have been using this technology to avoid prosecution.
“Drug lords are finding new ways to traffic drugs every day – and we have to keep a step ahead of them. We’ve learned that drug dealers are using submarine-like watercraft to traffic drugs under water – more easily evading detection and delivering drugs up to 3,500 miles away,” said Sen. Biden, a leader in tackling emerging drug threats. “If drug smugglers can pack tons of illegal drugs into these stealthy vessels, it’s pretty clear that terrorists could carry weapons of mass destruction or other threats into our country this way. This bill will help shut down this new mode of trafficking.”
The US Coast Guard, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Office of National Drug Control Policy strongly support criminalizing this conduct. The Drug Trafficking Interdiction Assistance Act of 2008 built on the work of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Sen. Biden pledged to continue to work with Sen. Lautenberg to get these measures enacted. Sen. Biden’s bill specifically:
Makes it a felony for those who knowingly or intentionally operate or embark in an SPSS that is without nationality and that is or has navigated in international waters, with the intent to evade detection;
Protects researchers, explorers, or others who may legitimately be operating an SPSS for a lawful purpose by adding a robust affirmative defense for such conduct; and
Directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to establish sentencing guidelines to provide for appropriate penalties for persons convicted of this offense, including taking into account aggravating and mitigating factors associated with the offense.
These Biden provisions were added to the House version of this bill (H.R. 6295), which passed the House of Representatives on July 29, 2008.
Semi-submersible, low-profile vessels transport drugs for profit, and they do so effectively. It does not take a great leap to imagine what danger awaits us if drug traffickers choose to link trafficking routes and methods with another -- perhaps even more profitable -- payload. In simple terms, if drug cartels can ship up to ten tons of cocaine in a semi-submersible, they can clearly ship or “rent space” to a terrorist organization for a weapon of mass destruction or a high-profile terrorist.
Turkey set to create $1 bln missile shield in Ankara, Istanbul
(NSI News Source Info) ANKARA, August 11, 2008 - Turkey plans to buy eight missile defense systems abroad to protect itself against possible missile attacks, an undersecretary for the Defense Ministry said on Monday.
Murat Bayar said two missile shields are to be deployed in and around Ankara and Istanbul by 2010, and that Turkey is currently negotiating a deal with four countries: Russia, the United States, China and Israel.
Experts say the most effective systems for Turkey would be the Russian-made S-300/400 or the U.S. Patriot missile defense systems. The United States deployed Patriots in Turkey during the war in the Persian Gulf and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Bayar said four systems would be bought initially and deployed to protect the Turkish capital.
"Systems that will be bought later will be deployed in other areas, depending on the threats encountered by the country," he said.
The cost of the Turkish air defense system has been put at $1 billion.
Force Protection Rolls Out First Ridgback Vehicles For UK MoD
(NSI News Source Info) Aug 11, 2008: Representatives of Force Protection Industries, the U.S. Government and the British Ministry of Defence gathered as Force Protection rolled out the first five new Ridgback vehicles developed specifically for the British Ministry of Defence (MOD).
The Ridgback is comparable to Force Protection's Cougar 4x4 vehicle.
"The delivery of the first five Ridgback vehicles represents an important step in our continuing efforts to provide critical protection for the British forces.
"Through the efforts of many people within Force Protection, we are able to deliver these first Ridgback vehicles one month ahead of schedule," said Michael Moody, chief executive officer.
The British Ministry of Defence has ordered 157 Ridgback vehicles for a total cost of approximately $94 million.
Although the British Ministry of Defence has used the Cougar 6x6 (Mastiff) since late 2006, this is the first Ridgback delivery to the United Kingdom.
Taliban fighters force Pakistan troops from tribal region
(NSI News Source Info) Islamabad, August 11, 2008: Pakistan-Taliban
Taliban fighters forced Pakistani soldiers to retreat from a militant stronghold near the border with Afghanistan over the weekend, after a three-day battle sent civilians fleeing from government air strikes.
The pullback from Bajaur, an area of Pakistan's tribal region where the Taliban and al Qaeda have forged particularly close ties, came after the military launched an offensive there late last week.
Military spokesmen said that 6 soldiers had been killed, though the Taliban put the number at 22. It was unclear how many civilians had died.
The clash was the second between government forces and the Taliban in the past two weeks. The army has been trying to push the Taliban out of Swat, an area east of the tribal region where a two-month-old peace agreement between the government of the North-West Frontier Province and the Taliban is in shreds.
There was some speculation among Pakistanis that the sudden offensive in Bajaur was aimed at satisfying the Bush administration, which has increasingly criticized Pakistan for not doing enough to stop Taliban fighters from crossing the border into Afghanistan to attack American soldiers.
The Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force commanded by the Pakistani army, tried to take back a strategic military post in Bajaur that the Taliban had captured earlier this year.
The post, Lowi Sam, is roughly 20 miles from Damadola, the Pakistani town on the border that the United States bombed in January 2006 in the belief that it would hit the Qaeda deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. The strike set off protests across Pakistan.
Lowi Sam has strategic significance because it provides access to a pass that leads to Kunar Province in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Specials
(NSI News Source Info) August 11, 2008: Pakistani troops has been having a difficult time going after Islamic terrorists in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. Part of the problem is lack of counter-terror training, and part has been divided loyalties. It works like this. The Pakistani army has been trained largely to fight Indian troops in a conventional war. Counter-terrorist operations against tribal warriors requires a very different skill set. Then there are loyalty issues. About twenty percent of military personnel are from the tribal areas. Being a soldier is considered a worthy career for tribal men, but they have decidedly mixed feelings about fighting their own people.
Well aware of this situation, the U.S. convinced Pakistan to allow the creation of a counter-terror unit trained by American Army Special Forces . The Pakistani military tends to have a favorable attitude towards these Special Forces, and allowed the recruiting and training troops for a special team to go after al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the tribal areas.
This was not an entirely new undertaking. Half a century ago, U.S. Special Forces helped Pakistan create its first commando unit, the SSG (Special Service Group). But these troops, like the rest of the Pakistani armed forces, have been preparing for another war with India. Unofficially, the Pakistani Special Forces has a strength of about 3,000 troops, and in the last twenty years, they have been involved aiding foreign and Afghan Islamic radicals fighting Russians in Afghanistan, and aiding similar groups fighting in Kashmir. Thus many of the SSG operators feel a close affinity with Islamic radical warriors and terrorists. Despite that, they have followed orders and successfully undertaken operations against Islamic radicals. This led to SSG members being targeted after the SSG led the assault on the Red Mosque in the Summer of 2007. This appears to have created some bad feelings between SSG and their former Islamic radical comrades.
Now there is a section of the Pakistani Special Service Group that specializes in U.S. counter-terrorism methods. Exactly how they will operate, how many of them there are and how they will work with foreign counter-terror operators, is all classified. But they are out there now, doing something.
(NSI News Source Info) August 11, 2008: The EELV program was designed to reduce the cost of government space launches through greater contractor competition, and modifiable rocket families whose system requirements emphasized simplicity, commonality, standardization, new applications of existing technology, streamlined manufacturing capabilities, and more efficient launch-site processing. Paradoxically, that very program may have forced the October 2006 merger of Boeing & Lockheed Martin’s rocket divisions.
Crosslink Magazine’s Winter 2004 article “EELV: The Next Stage of Space Launch” offers an excellent briefing that covers EELV’s program innovations and results, while a detailed National Taxpayer’s Union letter to Congress takes a much less positive view.
NATO agrees to emergency talks with Russia on S.Ossetia
(NSI News Source Info) BRUSSELS, August 11, 2008 - NATO has agreed to an emergency meeting of the NATO-Russia Council to be held on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia, the Russian mission to NATO said on Monday.
Several NATO members including the United States and Britain have condemned Russia's retaliation against Georgia's offensive in breakaway South Ossetia as "disproportionate." Georgia has been seeking to join the Western military alliance since its pro-Western leadership took power in 2003.
"NATO has agreed to our request for an emergency meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels," a Russian mission spokesperson said.
The meeting is expected to follow talks between Russia-NATO Council envoys and Georgia's foreign minister.
Georgia launched a major ground and air offensive to seize control over South Ossetia on Friday, which according to Russia left around 2,000 civilians dead. The attacks prompted Russia to send in tanks and hundreds of troops. The capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, has been virtually destroyed in the violence, and tens of thousands of residents have been left homeless.
Russia to provide $200 mln in urgent aid for S. Ossetia
(NSI News Source Info) BRUSSELS, August 11, 2008 - Russia's government has allocated $200 million in urgent aid for South Ossetia, to tackle a growing humanitarian catastrophe in the violence-torn separatist Georgian province, Russia's envoy to NATO said on Monday.
The breakaway republic will next year receive $400 million from Russia in reconstruction aid. Provincial capital Tskhinvali has been left in ruins by Georgia's military offensive, while Russia says more than 2,000 civilians have been killed, and over 34,000 have fled.
"Russia's government has urgently earmarked more than $200 million to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe from worsening," Dmitry Rogozin told a briefing.
Russia's finance minister had earlier said urgent humanitarian aid could be added to reconstruction allocations, which will be taken from Russia's 2009 budget.
"We have reserved 10 billion for 2009. But of course reconstruction should be started this year. Whether it will take a billion, two, or three will be determined, and then we will make adjustments in the 2008 budget," Alexei Kudrin said.
Most of South Ossetia's 80,000 residents are Russian citizens.
Ukraine seeks deal limiting use of Russian Black Sea Fleet
(NSI News Source Info) KIEV, August 11, 2008 - Ukraine wants Moscow to agree to a deal restricting the use of Russia's Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet in armed conflicts, a top Ukrainian diplomat said on Monday, following Russia's deployment of warships near Georgia.
Ukraine, whose pro-Western leadership shares the NATO ambitions of Georgia, threatened on the weekend to refuse to allow the Russian vessels to return to the Sevastopol naval base. The ships were patrolling the waters near Georgia during a Russian peace enforcement operation that begun after Georgia's costly offensive in breakaway South Ossetia.
"We hope that this situation will compel both parties to sign such an agreement. The Ukrainian side is ready for this," Deputy Foreign Minister Konstyantyn Yeliseyev said. He reiterated Kiev's position that the use of the Russian ships in armed hostilities is unacceptable.
Russia's Defense Ministry said on Sunday that the Russian Navy had sunk a Georgian vessel transporting missile launchers.
The Ukrainian diplomat said the country does not want confrontation with Russia but "normal, constructive dialogue that must take Ukraine's interests into consideration."
Two Russian warships - the Moskva missile cruiser and Smetlivy patroller - returned to the Russian port of Novorossiisk on Sunday evening. The Moskva had been docked at the Sevastopol base before its deployment near Georgia.
Georgia Claims Russians Have Cut Country in HalfAugust 11, 2008 NSI News Source InfoGeorgia Claims Russians Have Cut Country in Half
(NSI News Source Info) August 11, 2008: Russian forces seized several towns and a military base deep in western Georgia on Monday, opening a second front in the fighting. Georgia's president said his country had been effectively cut in half with the capture of the main east-west highway near Gori.
Fighting also raged Monday around Tskhinvali, the capital of the separatist province of South Ossetia. Russian warplanes launched new air raids across Georgia, with at least one sending screaming civilians running for cover.
The reported capture of the key Georgian city of Gori and the towns of Senaki, Zugdidi and Kurga came despite a top Russian general's claim earlier Monday that Russia had no plans to enter Georgian territory. By taking Gori, which sits on Georgia's only east-west highway, Russia can cut off eastern Georgia from the country's western Black Sea coast.
"(Russian forces) came to the central route and cut off connections between western and eastern Georgia," Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told a national security meeting.
The news agency Interfax, however, cited a Russian Defense Ministry official as denying Gori was captured.
First C-130J Super Hercules Visit to Canada Since Contract Signing
(NSI News Source Info) August 11, 2008: OTTAWA - The Abbotsford Air Show is the first Canadian event to host a C-130J Super Hercules since Lockheed Martin signed a contract with the Government of Canada valued at $1.4 billion to purchase 17 of the world's most advanced tactical airlifters plus related equipment and services. One C-130J Super Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing of the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station will be on display at the Abbotsford Air Show in British Columbia from August 8 through 10. This is the same type of aircraft that will be delivered to the Canadian Forces starting in 2010. Canada has joined the growing number of nations with C-130J fleets-allied operators include the United States, Australia, Denmark, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom. "The C-130J is a proven, available, rugged aircraft capable of performing a full spectrum of tactical airlift missions in demanding environments," said Jim Grant, Lockheed Martin Vice-President for Air Mobility. "We are confident it will become Canada's new workhorse and serve the Canadian Forces well for years to come." The new C-130J generates much greater operational efficiency than the older C-130s, such as Canada's E and H model, by flying farther, faster, with more payload and higher reliability. Additionally, the C-130J only requires three crew members for most missions so fewer flight crew members are exposed to potential threats in-theatre. C-130Js are currently deployed in several theatres and are operating at a very high tempo efficiently and reliably. C-130Js are being used daily for troop and equipment re-supply via ground delivery and airdrop, for air-to-air refuelling, ground refuelling and humanitarian relief. "Contract signing began the process of working with the Federal Government and Canadian industry to put a 20-year In-Service Support (ISS) program in place for the new fleet," said Mr. Grant. Lockheed Martin will conduct a series of competitions to select Canadian companies to deliver the ISS capability in Canada. "We look forward to utilizing this acquisition to strengthen our relationship with Canada," added Grant. "It is in that spirit that we will be announcing Canadian partnerships-and the full C-130J Canadian Industrial Team-later this year." Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin employs approximately 140,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The Corporation reported 2007 sales of $41.9 billion.
NATO Forces Closer to Attaining C-17s
(NSI News Source Info) August 11, 2008: BRUSSELS, Belgium --- Affectionately named the “Moose,” the C-17 cargo aircraft is close to finding a new home on Papa Air Base, Hungary. After years of planning, 14 NATO members and partners are only a few signatures away from gaining access to three C-17s to share for their national requirements, to include NATO missions in Afghanistan. “Some countries don’t have enough [need for] airlift to purchase their own C-17s,” said Peter Flory, assistant secretary general for NATO’s Defense Investment. The solution is to share the C-17s. The initiative, called NATO Strategic Airlift Capability, allows the 14 nations to draw on the aircraft’s capabilities at a fixed rate. First, all the nations must sign a memorandum of understanding. Then they pay the acquisition cost. After that, they only have to pay the operating cost at the end of each year. The nations then request flight hours with an operations team located at Papa AB. The team at Papa factors in time between aircraft usage for emergency use. The nations also can trade their flight hours with other nations in the group. If maintenance is required, the consortium will pull the costs from its operating budget to repair the problem. The decision to use C-17s for the initiative was made with the capabilities available at the time, said a U.S. defense advisor to the European Union. NATO countries were looking for an aircraft that could carry large cargo and land while under combat and on short runways. The C-17s fit that description. The C-17s are being offered by U.S. company Boeing at a reduced price, marking the first time these countries are purchasing U.S.-made avionics. According to Boeing, the recommended use of the C-17 is 1,000 flight hours a year, which gives the aircraft a life expectancy of 30 years. “In an ideal situation, the C-17 can go a distance of 2,400 kilometers and up to 28,000 feet and can land on a short runway as long as it’s strong,” said U.S. Air Force Col. John Zazworksy, commander of the NATO Heavy Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and commander of C-17 operations for the Strategic Airlift Capability at Papa Air Base. “The C-17 was designed around the cargo load. It can convert to airline or cargo seats. It can handle a combination of passengers, vehicles, track vehicles, cargo, medical evacuations, hummers, fire trucks, helicopters, an Abrams tank -- up to 80,000 metric tons,” he said. The United States will be providing personnel to operate the NATO C-17s until each nation in the consortium is ready to handle them on its own. “Initially, there will only be U.S. personnel manning the C-17s,” Zazworksy said. “But with training, the countries will be able to use their own pilots, crew, aircraft commanders and loadmasters. It will take a year and a half to train the countries’ crew and for them to be comfortable with the C-17 to fly on their own.” NATO and the United States will each purchase one C-17 for the initiative. The contract calls for the 14 nations to buy the third. However, all three aircraft will be owned by the consortium and can be used at the nations’ discretion. NATO officials say they hope to receive the first aircraft in November.
Russian budget suffers corrosive effects of inflation
(NSI News Source Info) 11 August 2008: Soaring oil prices have enriched Russia and seemingly allowed the Kremlin to raise defence spending to a post-Cold War high, with official expenditure on course to break RUR1 trillion (USD42 billion) in 2009.
But dig below the surface of the official figures and it quickly becomes apparent that this spending bonanza is far from the full story. In fact, Russia's inability to control its oil and credit-fuelled inflationary problems has seen defence spending growth falter in real terms.
Comparing Russia's inflation-adjusted defence budget growth to nominal figures demonstrates the problem. From the accession of Vladimir Putin as president in 2000, the budget increased substantially in real terms from RUR201 billion to RUR322 billion in 2006, marking a rise of 86 per cent, but since then growth has slowed. 2006 was in fact the peak year and real-terms budgets are not programmed to exceed it again until 2010 at the earliest.
This is primarily because high levels of inflation in the Russian economy have eroded the real-terms buying power of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). According to GDP inflation data published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Russian government has been consistently unable to control price rises in recent years.
Although 2004 and 2005 saw the highest inflation with rates of 20 per cent annually, since 2004 energy prices have soared even further, enriching Russia, but at the same time further feeding inflationary pressures. This resulted in annual GDP inflation of 17.5 per cent in 2006 and 13.5 per cent in 2007. By the end of 2008, the IMF estimates inflation will have risen again to more than 16.5 per cent. This is substantially higher than CPI inflation reported by the OECD, which peaked in 2001 and currently sits at about 10 per cent.
Saudi Arabia Eyes More BAE Eurofighter Jets
(NSI News Source Info) 11 Aug, 2008: LONDON - Saudi Arabia has begun discussions to buy a second batch of Eurofighter Typhoon jets from BAE Systems and could double its fleet to 144, the Financial Times said Aug. 11.
"The Gulf kingdom could buy up to 72 more of the multirole aircraft, an adviser to the Saudi government confirmed [Sunday] night," the FT added.
BAE and Saudi Arabia last year signed a 4.43 billion-pound deal to supply 72 Eurofighter Typhoon planes to Riyadh.
U.S. military aircraft bring 800 Georgian troops home from Iraq
(NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW, August 11, 2008 - U.S. military aircraft have flown 800 Georgian troops and a number of armored vehicles back home from Iraq amid an armed conflict in breakaway South Ossetia, a senior Russian military official said on Monday.
NBC reported on Monday that U.S. military transport planes had started to bring all the Georgian troops deployed in Iraq back home.
"U.S. aircraft have made eight flights to bring Georgian troops home from Iraq," Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn said.
Nogovitsyn pledged to take adequate measures. "We are ready to increase our forces in view of the relocation of Georgian troops." He said following Russia's deployment of 58th Army units to supplement its peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Georgian and Russian troop numbers in the conflict zone were around the same.
Georgian troops launched a major ground and air offensive on South Ossetia on Friday, which according to Russia left around 2,000 civilians dead. The attacks prompted Russia to send in tanks and hundreds of troops. The capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, has been virtually destroyed in the violence.
Until Georgia made the decision to pull out its troops from Iraq, the country had 2,000 service personnel deployed in the Middle East region, the third largest contingent after the U.S. and Britain.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the U.S., which has backed Georgia's NATO membership aspirations, is hampering the peacekeeping operation in South Ossetia by flying the Georgian troops from Iraq to Georgia.
"It's a pity that some of our partners instead of helping are trying to get in the way, I mean the United States using its military transport aircraft to relocate Georgia's military contingent from Iraq virtually into the conflict zone, among other things," Putin said during a government meeting.
Putin said pulling Georgian troops out of Iraq would not change the situation, but called the move a "step back from a settlement."
He said he was astonished by the double standards and cynicism of U.S. foreign policy and accused U.S. diplomats of retaining a Cold-War mentality, labeling the aggressor the victim while the real victim ends up being blamed as the aggressor.
"Of course, it was right that Saddam Hussein was hanged for butchering several Shia villages, while the current Georgian rulers, who wiped out ten Ossetian villages in no time and burnt people alive in their homes, must be protected," Putin said sarcastically.
A top Russian diplomat accused foreign media on Sunday of showing pro-Georgian bias in their coverage of the ongoing conflict.
Russia says Georgian troops in S.Ossetia surrendering
(NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW, August 11, 2008 - Georgian troops have been surrounded in South Ossetia and are giving themselves up, a senior Russian military official said on Monday.
"Russian troops are currently disarming the surrounded Georgian forces in South Ossetia," Col. Gen. Anatoly Nagovitsyn, deputy head of the General Staff, told a news conference.
Russian troops are currently forcing all Georgian troops out of Georgian-populated villages in the east and west of the breakaway region, he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said earlier on Monday that the operation declared on Saturday to "force Georgia to accept peace" was almost complete.
Russia drove Georgian troops out of the devastated capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, on Sunday, two days after Tbilisi launched a major ground and air offensive to regain control of the pro-Russian region.
Shelling and bombing attacks continued on Monday morning. Russia, which has maintained peacekeepers in the region since conflicts in the early 1990s, said over 2,000 civilians have been killed by Georgian forces. Moscow has also highlighted a humanitarian catastrophe in the region.
Georgia says it has lost 150 people in the conflict, and that hundreds of Georgians are injured. Nagovitsyn said 18 Russian troops have been killed and 52 wounded.
He warned that in the Black Sea near Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia, Russian forces will attack all Georgian ships and aircraft entering the security zone to deter a Georgian attack on Abkhazia.
Earlier reports said Russia had sent more than 9,000 troops and 350 armored vehicles into Abkhazia.
On Saturday Russia sent vessels to patrol the area near Abkhazia, where martial law has been declared. On Sunday, Russian defense officials said one Georgian missile boat was destroyed after it attacked Russian ships.
Nagoviotsyn also said two more Russian military aircraft have been downed in the conflict zone in the past 24 hours, bringing the Air Force's overall losses to four aircraft. He said Russia has gained full control over Georgian airspace, and is preventing all flights by Georgian combat aircraft.
"We have eliminated the possibility of an aerial threat from Georgia in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone," Nogovitsyn said.
He denied Georgian claims that Russian warplanes have targeted Georgian oil pipelines in bombing raids, in particular the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, which pumps crude from the Caspian to Europe.
"We did not bomb Georgia's oil pipelines. If we had done this, oil spills and possible oil fires could have led to a regional environmental disaster," Nogovitsyn said.
The general also denied reports that Russia had dropped bombs on Tbilisi's international airport or any other civilian targets, but admitted to an attack on a radar facility.
The United States and other Western nations have criticized Russia for what they have called a 'disproportionate' response to Georgia's attack on South Ossetia, and are urging both Russia and Georgia to stop armed hostilities.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who seeks NATO membership for the South Caucasus country, has pledged to bring the two pro-Russian separatists republics under central control. Most people in both republics have Russian passports.