Wednesday, September 03, 2008

MRAPs and New Wheeled APCs for Spain

MRAPs and New Wheeled APCs for Spain (NSI News Source Info) September 3, 2008: Western militaries are quickly coming to the realization that the light Land Rover, G-Wagen, and HMMWV type flat bottom vehicles deployed as light troop transports are no longer adequate on a non-linear battlefield with no defined front lines, in a world where the technology for making improvised and professional land mines is proliferating globally. Spain has been late to this realization, and the Ministerio de Defensa has been the target of criticism for that lateness. Spanish soldiers have also been targets: 4 successful land mine attacks in the 16 months leading up to Spain’s MRAP decision had killed 10 soldiers and a translator (6 in Lebanon, 5 in Afghanistan). In November 2007, with 4 months to go before elections, the situation in Spain shifted. The Spanish Council of Ministers announcement amounted to a major MRAP Class I and Class II program for Spain. The program will replace/supplement its VAMTAC and recently-acquired Anibal (Land Rover derivative) vehicles by 2009. Over the longer term, Spain will also replace its 6×6 BMR Armored Personnel Carriers. The 575+ vehicle acquisition program is sketched out, the finalists are lined up, and a program to buy wheeled APCs will follow. While the winners for the first 2 phases are clear, purchase and delivery are taking a long time. The winning vehicles have yet to be deployed to the front lines, and the issue has become a political controversy in Spain. Meanwhile, the government has signed a contract now for RG-51 Mk5E stretched vehicles. The good news: they paid less than they had set aside. The bad news: no manufacturing in Spain for Phase 1… *Spain’s MRAP Plan & Programs *Contracts & Key Events [updated] **Spain’s MRAP Plan & Programs Taken as a whole, the plan provides for an investment of EUR 321 million (about $450 million) to buy 575 vehicles over the 2007-2013 period “in line with the production capacity of the industry”. The immediate phase involves EUR 14.4 million for 40 mine-resistant vehicles, for delivery between the end of 2007 and the first quarter of 2008. This will be procured outside of the competition by direct negotiation, for rapid deployment abroad. The first regular phase involving a competition will run from during 2007-2009. The MdD will buy 220 mine-resistant vehicles at a cost of about EUR 143 million, in order to meet current commitments abroad. The plan provides for 120 “MRAP-I/squad” type vehicles (4-5 troops carried) and 100 “MRAP-II/platoon” type vehicles (8-10 troops carried), which should be delivered before the end of 2009. A winner has now been chosen in each of these categories, and deliveries are underway. In the second phase during 2009-2010, The MdD will invest another EUR 178 million in another 355 mine-resistant vehicles: 275 MRAP-I/squad and 80 MRAP-II/platoon. Deliveries will continue in stages from 2010-2013. In December 2007, El Pais reported that the MdD was already looking at a set of MRAP finalists: *MRAP I/squad, carries 4-5 soldiers: Iveco’s MLV/Panther, KMW’s Dingo-2, GD MOWAG’s Eagle IV. Iveco won. *MRAP II/platoon, carries 8-10 soldiers: BAE/GD RG-31E, RAFAEL’s Golan. Despite El Pais report, the Dingo-2 was actually part of this set, but finished 3rd in testing. The RG-31 Mk5E has reportedly won. Spain’s MdD has existing relationships with all of the firm’s listed as finalists by El Pais. Iveco makes the Army’s Centauro heavy wheeled APCs/assault guns. That relationship has now expanded to include its MLV/Panther mine resistant vehicles, which began testing in Spain in 2006. Spain joins Italy, Britain, Belgium, and Norway as MLV customers. General Dynamics Santa Barbara Sistemas is Spain’s premier military land vehicle firm. They provide the Army’s artillery, its Pizarro tracked IFVs, and its existing BMR 6×6 wheeled APCs and VEC 6×6 cavalry scout vehicles. General Dynamics’ MOWAG subsidiary builds the LAVs used by the Spanish Marines. MOWAG ’s Eagle IV is based on a Duro-II truck frame, instead of a Hummer chassis like previous Eagle designs. It has received orders from Switzerland and Denmark, but ranked behind the Iveco MLV in Spain and was not ordered. The RG-31/31E is manufactured by BAE OMC of South Africa, but it is offered to US and Canadian forces via a partnership involving General Dynamics and a Crown Corporation of the Canadian government. Spanish RG-31E vehicles will be built in partnership with General Dynamics Santa Barbara Sistemas. RAFAEL equips Spanish forces with a number of products, including the Spike anti-armor missiles recently chosen as Spain’s next generation weapon for troops and helicopters. The Golan has an additional advantage in that it is designed from the outset to withstand hits from high-caliber cannon fire, RPG anti-tank rockets, and advanced EFP land mines, thanks to the explosive reactive armor that is an integral part of the vehicle. It finished second in the evaluations, but the competition was not a total loss – RAFAEL’s Samson remote weapons system will equip Spain’s RG-31 Mk5Es. KMW manufactures Spain’s Leopard 2E tanks, in partnership with General Dynamics Santa Barbara Sistemas. Its Dingo 2 did not win the competition, placing 3rd in evaluations. Finally, the third phase will induct a new generation of wheeled armored personnel carriers into Spain’s army. El Pais’ reporteports specifies “en principio, en version ocho por ocho ruedas- dotados de modulos intercambiables, de forma que la misma plataforma pueda reconvertirse en solo una hora en un vehi­culo de transporte de tropas, centro de mando o ambulancia.” (translated: “in principle, an 8×8 wheel vehicle equipped with interchangeable modules, so that the same platform can be converted in just one hour in a vehicle transporting troops, command center or ambulance.”) If El Pais is correct, some form of local design and production is also a possibility; indeed, the reality of weapons sales on this level is that some form of local offsets and cooperation are a must. Strong wheeled APC candidates include the ARTEC (Stork/KMW) consortium’s modular Boxer MRAV, and GD MOWAG’s Piranha IV-V, due to these firm’s strong relationships and production arrangements in Spain. Other possibilities include GD Steyr’s Pandur II, Nexter’s VBCI, and Patria’s AMV.
**Contracts & Key Events Sept 2/08: General Dynamics announces a EUR 64.6 million ($102 million) contract from the Spanish Government to supply 100 RG-31 Mk5E vehicles for the Army: 85 standard personnel carriers, 10 Ambulances, and 5 Command Post variants. The contract calso calls for integration of Remote Controlled Weapon Station (RCWS) turrets, and ongoing support. General Dynamics Santa Barbara Sistemas, as prime contractor, will provide program management, engineering and logistic support. BAE Systems Land Systems OMC of South Africa will supply the vehicles as a subcontractor to General Dynamics. Work under the contract is expected to be completed by 2009, but the contract includes an option for a 2nd phase of 80 more vehicles that would involve some manufacturing in Spain June 27/08: The Spanish Council of Ministers announces their approval of a EUR 75 million contract for 100 RG-31E MRAP vehicles. The contract includes RAFAEL’s Samson family of remotely-controlled weapon stations, as well as vehicle logistics support in theater in Afghanistan and Lebanon. The government says that it hopes to have 40 vehicles delivered by year-end, with the balance to follow in 2009. The releases and reports mention that the delivery schedule is still being negotiated, and a formal contract with General Dynamics Santa Barbara Sistemas hasn’t been signed yet. Reports expect a contract in July 2008, though defense minister Carme Chacon is currently away on maternity leave. Reports also indicate that the compressed delivery schedule is likely to limit Spanish industrial participation, and lead to a greater percentage of the vehicles being manufactured abroad. June 25/08: An Infodefensa story covers the fact that spain has’t been able to deploy its Iveco MLV Lince light MRAP vehicles in Afghanistan and Lebanon. Apparently the contract award in March 2007 did not include enough spare parts given Afghanistan and Lebanon’s harsh conditions. Operational evaluation also revealed that the machine gunner up top did not have adequate protection, and the defence ministry is reportedly looking for a firm to undertake that work. Perhaps they might wish to look into American front-line innovations like the Chavis Turret, which could also be retrofitted to Spain’s VAMTAC Hummer derivatives. June 23/08: The Partido Popular’s Congressional Defence Committee spokesman Beatriz Rodriguez-Salmon demands that the Ministry of Defence “accelerate” the purchase of MRAP vehicles, which had been approved by the Council of Ministers in November 2007. Europa Press. May 14/08: Spanish defense and security bloggers renew their public campaign for MRAP vehicles, which have been promised since September 2007, under the slogan “MRAPs Para Nuestros Tropas Ya! Complacency Kills. Ni Una Baja as.” (‘MRAP for our troops now!. Complacency kills. No more Deaths’). Europa Press crosses the campaign over into mainstream media with a June 10/08 story. April 26/08: The Spanish government’s BOE site announces a EUR 24.7 million/ $38.5 million contract with Iveco to deliver 80 new 4×4 MLV/ Lince vehicles. See also Feb 15/08 entry. Feb 21/08: Europa Press reports that BAE OMC’s RG-31 Mk5E has won the second phase of the Spanish MRAP competition, for a squad level vehicle. The report says that 100 fully-equipped vehicles will be ordered, at a cost of about EUR 100 million ($150 million). The RG-31 Mk5E is a larger version of the RG-31 in service with a number of militaries and with the UN, and is also one of the USA’s Category II MRAP vehicles, with 610 ordered to date. Spain’s General Dynamics Santa Barbara Sistemas will be the vehicle integrator, and armament will include RAFAEL’s Samson remote weapon system that can be fired from inside the vehicle. Europa Press reports that RAFAEL’s Golan vehicle came in 2nd in the Spanish evaluations, though the criteria were unspecified. KMW’s Dingo-2 reportedly came in 3rd. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2008, and end in 2009. Feb 15/08: Spain’s council of Ministers approves the acquisition of another 80 Iveco MLVs. Iveco Spain has already delivered 10 under the 40-vehicle December 2007 order, and the rest are expected before April 2008. This second set of 80 vehicles will be delivered throughout 2008, at which point the 120 vehicle requirement for mine-resistant patrol vehicles will be complete. Government release. Dec 18/07: The Spanish Goverment’s Official Bulletin confirms the purchase of 40 IVECO MLVs for EUR 12.4 million, which is less than the budgeted amount. There is no news concerning accompanying IED jammers or remote control weapons stations, and reader Pedro Lucio informs us that the first 10 MLV are now in Spain. Nov 14/07: Europa Press reports that Spain has selected Iveco’s MLV for its EUR 14.4 million, 40 vehicle rush order, joining fellow customers in Belgium, Britain, Italy and Norway. The Spanish armed forces already use Iveco trucks in transport roles. See “Norway Rush-Orders Mine-Resistant Iveco MLVs” for more details re: the Iveco MLV and its system of mine protection, which goes considerably beyond the standard v-hull approach. The vehicles have yet to be fully tested on the battlefield, however, as deliveries are just beginning from the Iveco Defence Vehicle Division in Bolzano, Northern Italy.

US General Sees Afghan Army Swelling to 130,000

US General Sees Afghan Army Swelling to 130,000 (NSI News Source Info) BRUSSELS - September 3, 2008: A U.S. general said Sept. 3 that he expected the numbers of the Afghan army to swell by nearly double to more than 130,000 troops. "We envisage a 122,000-strong structure, with a total of 134,000 personnel, the extra 12,000 allowing to keep a lot of people in school and training," Maj. Gen. Robert Cone said. However Cone, who is in charge of helping to train the Afghan army, did not say how long he expected it to take to assemble a force of 134,000. Originally, about 90,000 troops were targeted by 2009. Currently, the Afghan army counts about 60,000 soldiers on the ground with 8,000 in training, Cone said from Kabul through a video conference beamed to NATO's Brussels' headquarters. "There has been a growing trend in enemy (Taliban) activities," he said. "The Afghans feel very strongly about their ability to defend their country," he said. "I personally believe the best people to defend Afghanistan are Afghans." He said that the Afghan forces now even had an "air corps," dedicated primarily to transporting troops and equipment. NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has about 53,000 troops operating in the country under a U.N. mandate to help give security support to the Afghan government. There are 17,000 more troops in an international coalition, under direct U.S. command, charged more specifically with hunting down al-Qaida extremists.

Iraq Watching Its Reflection In The Mirror

Iraq Watching Its Reflection In The Mirror (NSI News Source Info) September 3, 2008: Last month, 830 Iraqi civilians were killed or wounded by terrorist activity. That's an 80 percent reduction from last year. But there are still thousands of Iraqis who are at war with their countrymen, and are willing to kill for the cause (which could be anything from the return of Saddam's Baath Party to power, to the establishment of a Sunni or Shia religious dictatorship.) That murderous mentality is not unique to this time or place, it is endemic. For centuries, the Turks kept order, mostly with the real threat of violent retribution against any group that misbehaved. The Turks allowed local legal systems to operate, but what is now Iraq was an area where tribal councils and religious courts provided what passed for a justice system. When the Turks departed after 1918, many disputes, long suppressed, were now played out with great violence. That is still going on, and it will be 5-10 more years before Iraq has a judicial system that can even hope to deal with these disputes. September 2, 2008: The provincial elections that were supposed to take place next month, have been cancelled, and rescheduled for sometime next Summer. Not a good sign. The current elected officials are stealing all they can get away with, and many Iraqis know it, and are eager to vote the thieves out of office. This is particularly true at the provincial level, where the theft is more up close and personal. September 1, 2008: Iraqi security forces took over responsibility for Anbar Province. The Iraqis are now responsible for security in 11 of the nations 18 provinces. Anbar is basically western Iraq, and is mostly desert. It has long been occupied, rather sparsely, by Sunni Arab tribes. These were an independent minded people, and even Saddam used more carrot than stick when dealing with them. Thus when Saddam was overthrown, the Anbar tribes sheltered Islamic terrorists for several years, but have now seen the error of their ways. August 30, 2008: Although hundreds of Shia Arabs openly pledged to continue fighting Americans, most Mahdi Army fighters appear to be putting their weapons away and giving up armed confrontations and other actions that could lead to fighting. The basic problem the Mahdi Army faces is that the towns and neighborhoods they pledged to protect from Sunni Arab terrorists are now patrolled by Shia Arab soldiers and police. American troops are rarely seen, and most Shia Iraqis like the way things have developed. If the Mahdi Army continued its armed confrontations, it would lose even more support. So Sadr saw that it was either disarm or become irrelevant. August 29, 2008: Relations with Kuwait continue to be tense. Not because Iraq still insists that Kuwait is the wayward 19th province, but because Kuwait has unleashed lawyers to force payment of reparations for damage done by Iraqi troops during the 1990 invasion. Iraq doesn't want to pay, even though Saddam, on behalf of the government, agreed to. So Kuwait has lawyers enforcing that agreement by getting foreign courts to turn over to Kuwait goods that Iraq has bought, but have not yet shipped. This has resulted in court orders in Britain and Canada, giving Kuwait ownership of over a billion dollars worth of Iraqi commercial aircraft and other goods. The Kuwaitis know they can be as mean as they want to be, because the Iraqis aren't strong enough to threaten any military action, and Kuwait is protected by a permanent U.S. troop presence (mainly support units for Iraq operations, and a logistics unit maintaining equipment that might be needed for any future war in the region.) Inside Kuwait, the American presence is popular, as are the legal efforts to collect the reparations from Iraq. August 28, 2008: Speaking from exile in Iran, Shia leader Moqtada al Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia to halt all combat operations, and to shift to non-violent protests. Government soldiers and police had, earlier this year, defeated and scattered Mahdi Army units, so Sadr's order was a recognition of a new reality. Sadr is completing his religious studies in Iran, and avoiding assassination by any followers unhappy with his lack of aggressiveness. August 27, 2008: So far this year, the U.S. has released 11,000 of the Iraqis it had picked up as terrorism suspects. Over the years, the U.S. developed interrogation and screening procedures that enables them to release people safely (only about one percent are picked up again as a terrorist suspect.) August 26, 2008: In the north, a suicide bomb hit a police recruiting center, killing 28 and wounding 45. The terrorists are making their last stand in Diyala province and around Mosul. Preventing the police from establishing control is essential if the terrorists are to survive up there. As has long been the case, the terrorists only survive if they can terrorize the police into inactivity. The Iraqis are still short of experienced, competent and reliable police commanders. And not many with all those qualities are willing to risk their lives establishing an effective police presence in the north. August 25, 2008: The government ordered a brigade of 2,000 Kurdish troops out of Diyala province. Some 90 percent of the population there is Sunni Moslem, but the largest minority, about 7 percent, are Kurds. The Kurds do not trust the Shia government of the province, and the largely Shia security forces, to adequately protect the Kurds there. But the Kurds followed orders, and later complained to journalists about it.

Philippines Air Force shortfall of transport aircrafts

Philippines Air Force shortfall of transport aircrafts (NSI News Source Info) September 3, 2008: The Philippines recently lost one of its two C-130 transports in an accident. They also have two F-27 Fokker transports, but they are heavily used, and can only carry half as many troops (the C-130 can carry 92 troops or 20 tons of cargo). With a sudden increase in military operations in the Moslem south, sending new troops down there by ship simply takes too long. So the Filipinos are doing what most other nations (including the United States) end up doing, and chartering commercial aircraft to move the troops.

Su-34 Fighter-bomber: Russia's New Rearmament Program

Su-34 Fighter-bomber: Russia's New Rearmament Program
(NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - September 3, 2008: Russia's rearmament program, approved in 2006 for a period until 2015, provides for supplying modern weapons to its armed forces. One of them is the Su-34 Fullback fighter-bomber, which will replace the Su-24 Fencers. The process has begun, but some say the replacement is taking too long. The new fighter-bomber is said to be very good. An improvement on the Su-27 Flanker, it has cutting-edge equipment, including a modern crew and equipment protection system. The Su-34 is effective against personnel and military hardware on the battlefield and also against targets behind enemy lines. It can also be used for surveillance missions and against naval targets.
The Su-34 will replace the Su-24M aircraft (about 400 planes), the Su-24MR surveillance aircraft (over 100 planes), and the MiG-25RB aircraft (about 70). Russia will have to produce between 550 and 600 Su-34s to replace these obsolete aircraft within 10-15 years. However, the Defense Ministry plans to buy only about 58 such planes by 2015, and a total of 300 by 2022. Many experts say that if the Su-24 and MiG-25RB aircraft are scrapped by 2020, Russia will be left without fighter-bombers and surveillance aircraft. Others argue that this number will be enough for the Air Force's new concept. The concept is focused not so much on the combat characteristics of the Su-34, as on its long range, the ability to refuel in the air (including by other Su-34 aircraft with additional fuel tanks under their wings), and its comfortable cabin allowing the crew to make long-distance flights without becoming overtired. Units armed with such aircraft can be used in the so-called pendulum operations, when an Air Force unit bombs a terrorist base in Central Asia today, delivers a strike at a missile base in Europe the next day, and three days later flies to the Indian Ocean to support a combined group of the Northern, Pacific and Black Sea fleets, with flights from a base in Russia. The Su-34 aircraft has long-range precision weapons, can fly hugging the earth, and has a high level of protection, which should cut losses during lightning operations, while the use of a relatively small number of such aircraft allows training crews to perfection. This is not a new concept. Elite units of top-class aircraft manned by superbly trained crews formed the core of the German air force during World War II, and Japan's Imperial Navy had a similar concept. However, such elite units can be quickly weeded out by swarms of ordinary aircraft in a global war of attrition, such as World War II. From this viewpoint, Russia's new concept looks vulnerable, but then this country has the nuclear triad for a global war. In a war of attrition, it will not matter how many such smart aircraft Russia will have - 200, 600 or 1,500. What will really matter is the yield of a nuclear bomb they will be able to drop on the enemy. But in the event of a small war involving one or two adversaries, or a chain of local conflicts, the existence of such high-speed, highly protected and well-armed aircraft can be the decisive factor. Even 58 Su-34 fighter-bombers, used at the right time in the right place, would be a powerful force. A group of 200-300 such aircraft, divided into several units for use in key areas of the battlefield, will be able to fulfill the most complicated tasks. Apart from the Su-34, the Russian Air Force will also receive other new planes, whose technical characteristics will maintain the force's combat potential at the requisite level. New units, set up for the fulfillment of specific tasks, will consist of fighters, bombers, early warning and command planes, flying tankers, and unmanned aerial vehicles. These will be highly mobile units, which means that its aircraft can be quickly dispatched to the area in question. In fact, Russia's new concept is not unlike the United States' Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF), a flexible and powerful instrument of air warfare capable of quickly delivering strikes in any part of the world. As for surveillance aircraft, industrialized countries intend to replace them with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The world is changing, and the new world will wage new kind of wars.

China and India Make Smerch Rockets

China and India Make Smerch Rockets (NSI News Source Info) September 3, 2008: Rosoboronexport is preparing to transfer the technology for the production of elements of the Smerch multiple launch rocket system to China and to give India a license for its production. Those plans are discussed in a letter from general director of the Perm Powder Mill Alexander Melentyev to Governor of Perm Territory Oleg Chirkunov dated June 23, 2008. According to the letter, the mill concluded an agreement to manufacture and deliver equipment for the production of SND-100 rocket fuel to the Splav enterprise in Tula. Splav in turn would resell the equipment and technology to China under a 2004 contract to transfer the license for the multiple launch rocket system. “If the deal is implemented, China will have the ability to produce solid-fuel rocket engines for various purposes and will become a competitor for Russia on the world missile technology market,” the letter notes. The letter said that Splav was also negotiating with India and proposed to provide that country with documentation and equipment to allow the Indians to make their own rockets. Melentyev is currently being held in investigative custody in a criminal case involving the embezzlement of 17.2 million rubles from the powder mill. The Smerch multiple launch rocket system has a 90-km. range. It was developed by Splav and is mass produced by OAO Motovilikhinskie Plants. Perm Powder Mill is a subcontractor. Motovilikhinskie has delivered 38 Smerch complexes to India this year on a contract dated December 31, 2005, worth $450 million. In 2010, another 24 complexes are to be delivered to India under a 2007 contract. At the end of the 1990s, China developed its own inferior analog of the Smerch, the A-100. It will be able to market the multiple launch rocket systems. India has had little success with military equipment production, and has had problems producing Russian Su-30MKI fighter jets and T-90S tanks, English Hawk training jets and French Scorpene submarines.

Israel says serious about 'any option' to curb Iran

Israel says serious about 'any option' to curb Iran (NSI News Source Info) JERUSALEM - September 3, 2008:Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday there was still time for diplomacy to curb Iran's nuclear programme but that Israel was serious about using 'any option' if that failed."The time is still for diplomacy and sanctions, but much more effective sanctions," Barak said in an interview with Al Jazeera television."We keep saying that we do not remove any option from the table. I propose to others not to remove any option from the table as well. But when we say it, we mean it," he added.Israel, which is thought to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, believes Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2010 and says an Iranian nuclear weapon would threaten the existence of the Jewish state.Oil-rich Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons and says it is enriching uranium only for use in generating electricity.Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, a candidate in the race to replace Ehud Olmert as prime minister, stoked tensions in June by saying that war with Iran could be "unavoidable".

NATO continues to build up naval presence in Black Sea

NATO continues to build up naval presence in Black Sea (NSI News Source Info) ANKARA/MOSCOW - September 3, 2008: NATO is continuing to strengthen its naval task force in the Black Sea, a Turkish military source said on Wednesday. "A U.S. Pathfinder ship has entered the Black Sea," the source said on condition of anonymity. USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS 60) is an oceanographic survey ship owned by Military Sealift Command and has a civilian crew and scientists on board. However, a Russian military source told RIA Novosti that ships of the Pathfinder class could be used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering purposes. "We have reliable information confirming that the [Pathfinder] ship has arrived in the Black Sea primarily to conduct intelligence gathering operations in support of the NATO naval task group currently deployed in the area," the source said. NATO sent at least five warships, including guided missile frigates, into the Black Sea after Russia completed its operation "to force Georgia to peace" on August 12. The operation came as a response to Georgia's attack on South Ossetia on August 8. Another U.S. warship is expected to arrive in the Black Sea in the next few days, a Russian intelligence source said on Wednesday. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia will respond calmly to the presence of NATO warships in the Black Sea. "Our response will be calm, not hysterical, but there will definitely be a response," Putin said. Meanwhile, Admiral Eduard Baltin, a former fleet commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, suggested last week that the NATO naval strike group currently deployed in the area could be destroyed by a single missile salvo within 20 minutes. "Within 20 minutes the waters would be clear," he said, stressing that despite major reductions, the Black Sea Fleet still has a formidable missile arsenal. However, Baltin said the chances of a military confrontation between NATO and Russia in the Black Sea were negligible. "We will not strike first, and they do not look like people with suicidal tendencies," he said.

U.S. warship leaves Sevastopol after protests

U.S. warship leaves Sevastopol after protests (NSI News Source Info) SEVASTOPOL - September 3, 2008: The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas left Sevastopol Tuesday morning after anti-NATO protests in Ukraine's Crimean port. The Dallas, which recently delivered humanitarian aid to Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi, docked on Monday at the Crimean port, where Russia has a naval base, at the invitation of Kiev. The ship's arrival was met by thousands of anti-NATO protesters chanting "Yankees go home!" and waving banners with the slogan "NATO Stop!" Police cordoned off the area around the ship. Ukrainian customs officers who boarded the ship and met the commander said they had been prepared to lay on buses for the U.S. crew to give them a tour of the city, but apart from a few officers, no one left the vessel. Tensions between Russia and the West have been exacerbated by the build up in the Black Sea of U.S. and NATO naval vessels delivering humanitarian aid to Georgia. In an apparent response, Russia sent a group of warships last week, including the Moskva missile cruiser, to Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia. A Russian warship, the Smetlivy patroller, has meanwhile returned to Sevastopol after being involved in peacekeeping operations off the Abkhazian shore, a Russian Black Sea Fleet command source said. "Smetlivy returned to its base this morning. Everyone on board is safe and sound. A group of ships has remained near the Abkhazian shore to ensure the republic's maritime security," the source said. Most of Russia's naval group have returned to the Black Sea bases of Novorossiisk and Sevastopol. After a Russian ship patrolling Abkhazian waters sank a Georgian missile boat during armed conflict last month, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Russian warships involved in the operation near Georgia could be prohibited from returning to Sevastopol. Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses the Sevastopol base under agreements signed in 1997. Ukrainian pro-NATO President Victor Yushchenko announced earlier this year that Ukraine would not extend the lease beyond 2017. Yushchenko signed a decree last month requiring prior notice of all movements by Russian naval vessels and aircraft from the Sevastopol base in the Crimea. Russia views it as a provocation and is likely to resist any Ukrainian attempts to restrict the deployment of its navy.

Gazprom, Nigeria plan joint venture

Gazprom, Nigeria plan joint venture (NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - September 3, 2008: Gazprom and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation plan to set up a joint venture, the Russian energy giant said on Wednesday. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller and NNPC Managing Director Yar'Adua signed a memorandum of understanding in Moscow on Wednesday. "The document envisions joint projects to prospect, produce and transport hydrocarbons, to design a system to collect and process associated gas, and to build power plants in Nigeria," the company said. "To implement these goals, a Russian-Nigerian joint venture is planned to be set up." It was earlier reported that Gazprom and NNPC had signed an agreement on the joint construction of an integrated network of gas pipelines in the west-African country. Nigeria is one of the largest hydrocarbon producers in Africa, with proven reserves of over 9 billion tons of oil equivalent. It produced 130 mln tons in 2007. Around 40% of associated gas (24.1 bln cu m a year) produced in the country is flared. The Nigerian government plans to introduce a system of fines for flaring associated gas starting in 2009. Nigeria's proven reserves of natural gas are 5.2 trillion cu m.

Pakistan: Troops kill 30 militants in Swat

Pakistan: Troops kill 30 militants in Swat (NSI News Source Info) MINGORA - September 3, 2008: Security forces killed 30 militants during a search operation on Wednesday in the Swat Valley, a military spokesman said."The operation was very successful. We made the militants flee the area and they are now on the run," said the spokesman in the region, Major Nasir Ali. He said 35 militants were wounded in the fighting by ground troops supported by helicopter gunships.

FELIN (Fantassin à Équipements et Liaisons Intégrés) - Future Infantry Soldier System, France

FELIN (Fantassin à Équipements et Liaisons Intégrés) - Future Infantry Soldier System, France (NSI News Source Info) September 3, 2008: The Délégation Générale pour L'Armement (DGA), the French Ministry of Defence Procurement Agency, has awarded the contract to Sagem for the supply of the FELIN (Fantassin à Équipements et Liaisons Intégrés), the French future infantry soldier system. The FELIN system will be an integrated part of the French Army's future air and land network centric system, Bulle Operationnelle Aéroterrestre or BOA (the air land operational bubble). The system will provide the soldier with improved close-combat capability in terms of lethality, survivability, mobility and C4I (Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Information). In 1996, the DGA placed a contract on an industrial team led by Thomson CSF (now Thales) for the development of the Dismounted Combatant Equipment technology demonstrator (Équipement du Combattant Débarqué) or FELIN. "The FELIN system will provide the soldier with improved close-combat capability." The system was tested over a two-year period from 1999. In 2001 the DGA invited Sagem and an industrial team of Giat and Thales to carry out FELIN definition studies. The DGA specified costs and delivery dates but no firm outline technical or capability specifications. The DGA selected Sagem as the preferred bidder in 2003 and awarded the FELIN V1 (Version1) contract in March 2004. Each FELIN system is estimated to cost €26,000.
It is estimated that all French infantry troops will be equipped with FELIN V1 by 2010. The Sagem JIM MR medium-range multi-function binoculars have been selected for FELIN. The FELIN Future Infantry Soldier System for the French Army. The FELIN system will be an integrated part of the French Army's future air and land network centric system, called BOA. The FELIN system will provide the soldier with improved close-combat capability in terms of lethality, survivability, mobility and C4I. The FELIN system includes portable computer, voice / data radio, new combat clothing with body armour and a new ballistic helmet. The FELIN helmet has a wide-angle day / night camera and an osteo-microphone fitted in the headband.
INFANTRY SOLDIER SYSTEM SCHEDULE Under the FELIN contract, Sagem will deliver up to 22,500 FELIN V1 sets for 20 infantry regiments and an additional 9,000 FELIN sets for use by the troops of the armoured, engineering and artillery regiments of the French Army. 50 pre-production FELIN systems were delivered in September 2007 and trials with these are underway. 358 pre-production FELIN sets are scheduled for delivery in 2008 for operational evaluation. Three infantry companies will undertake a series of trials of the pre-production systems of the FELIN systems. The trials are scheduled to last 12 months. The first 1,089 production FELIN systems were ordered in May 2006 and full-rate production is scheduled to begin in September 2008. First deliveries of production FELIN units is scheduled for early 2009 with initial deployment in mid-2009. In April 2008, Sagem received an order for 5,045 FELIN systems for the French Army, to be delivered between mid-2009 and the end of 2010. It is estimated that all French infantry troops will be equipped with FELIN V1 by 2010. Production of FELIN V2 is planned to begin in 2015. FELIN SYSTEM The DGA has provided a target weight for the system of less than 25kg, to include the entire FELIN system, weapons, ammunitions, and 24-hour energy, food and water provisions. Effort is also being directed to the selection of the energy supplies and the method of recharging batteries. "The individual soldier will be equipped with a radio / GPS." The system will be delivered in five configurations for different levels of command. Each of the 20 regiments will be supplied with 1,000 systems. The FELIN system includes portable computer, a voice and data radio, new combat clothing with body armour and a new ballistic helmet. BALLISTIC HELMET The new lightweight helmet provides ballistic protection and is fitted with integrated optronic systems. The helmet has two LED displays, each 3cm². The headband of the helmet is fitted with a OH-295 osteo-microphone which picks up speech by sensing the vibration in the wearer’s skull. The OH-295 is supplied by Elno of France. The osteo-microphone and a vibrating speaker provide good voice communications even in a noisy battlefield environment. FELIN WEAPON SYSTEMS The weapon systems include the Giat FAMAS F1 5.56mm assault rifle, the Giat FR-F2 7.62mm sniper rifle and the FN Herstal Minimi 5.56mm light machine gun. The weapons are to be fitted with new sights for day and night operation and improved target acquisition. The infantryman will have an image-intensifying sight such as the Sagem Clara, the commander a thermal imaging weapon sight. The sights are linked to the communications system so the acquired target images viewed through the weapon sights can be transmitted digitally in real time through the FELIN communications network. "The video sight will allow the soldier to extend the weapon and aim around a corner." The FAMAS assault rifle will be equipped with a video sight integrated to the FELIN system. The video sight will allow the soldier to extend the weapon and aim around a corner without exposing his body to the enemy's line of sight. A push control button on the stock of the FAMAS rifle allows the soldier to call up other systems such as targeting aids without lowering the weapon from the firing position. Sagem's JIM MR multifunction binoculars have been chosen for FELIN. JIM MR combines uncooled thermal imaging channel, eyesafe laser rangefinder and a digital magnetic compass. COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS The individual soldier will be equipped with a radio / Global Positioning System (GPS). The RIF (Infantry Information Network) is a voice and data network that connects the soldier to other infantrymen in the section and to the section commander, who is connected to the SITEL battle management system of the vehicle. SITEL, developed by Sagem, is being fitted to all French Army vehicles and, as of April 2008, had been deployed with two armoured brigades. The PR4G VS4 frequency-hopping tactical radio from Thales Communications has tactical internet connectivity and links the dismounted soldier to the vehicle's SITEL.

Russia warns Australia against scrapping uranium deal: report

Russia warns Australia against scrapping uranium deal: report (NSI News Source Info) SYDNEY - September 3, 2008: Any decision by Australia to scrap a deal to sell uranium to Russia to protest its action in Georgia would be "politically biased" and economically harmful, Moscow's envoy to Canberra has reportedly warned. Fairfax newspapers on Tuesday quoted Ambassador Alexander Blokhin, as issuing the caution a day after Australia's foreign minister said Canberra was reconsidering whether to ratify a 2007 pact to sell yellowcake to Moscow following its military foray into Georgia. "We do not see any connection between the events in the Caucasus region and the uranium deal," Blokhin told Fairfax through an interpreter. "These are completely separate things. The agreement on uranium is actually an agreement about the use of atomic energy only for peaceful civilian aims. "If this agreement is not ratified, in that case we could regard that as an obversely political biased decision, which could harm the economic interests of Australia as well," the ambassador was quoted as saying. Blokhin could not immediately be reached for comment by AFP on Tuesday. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was then president, and former Australian prime minister John Howard signed the deal a year ago allowing sales of uranium to Moscow for civilian nuclear power use. The pact, which broadens the scope of uranium sales from a 1990 agreement that remains in force, stipulates that the material not be used to make nuclear weapons or be sold to any other country. But Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Monday that Australia would take into account Russia's push into Georgian territory last month as well as Canberra's ties with Moscow when deciding whether or not to ratify the deal. "When considering ratification, the government will take into account not just the merits of the agreement but recent and ongoing events in Georgia and the state of Australia's bilateral relationship with the Russian Federation," Smith said. Smith also ordered his ministry to convey the news to Blokhin, whom Smith had summoned last week to urge Moscow to pull its troops in Georgia back to the positions they held before the conflict began on August 8. He also criticised Russia's decision to recognise the independence of the Georgian rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as unhelpful.

Taliban admit kidnapping Chinese engineers in Pakistan

Taliban admit kidnapping Chinese engineers in Pakistan (NSI News Source Info) Peshawar, Pakistan - September 3, 2008: Pakistani Taliban militants said Tuesday they had kidnapped two Chinese telecoms engineers and their entourage and would soon issue a list of demands. The engineers went missing along with their local driver and a security guard four days ago near the Afghan border where they had been checking an installation. "Our men have kidnapped the two Chinese engineers and they are currently in our custody," Muslim Khan, a spokesman for militants from the restive northwestern Swat valley, told AFP. He confirmed that the driver and security guard were also being held. "Our central consultative council will take a final decision about the fate of the engineers," he said, adding that a list of demands would be put to government officials for their release. He did not, however, give any date for a meeting of the council. Islamic militants have been known in the past to target Chinese workers in Pakistan. China is one of Islamabad's closest allies as well as its largest arms supplier. Police sent three investigation teams to the rugged area to try and trace the engineers, employed by Zhongxing Telecommunication Equipment. An official said at the weekend that it was not clear whether they had been kidnapped, lost their way or met an accident. In October 2004, Islamic militants led by a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Abdullah Mehsud, kidnapped two Chinese engineers working on a multi-million dollar hydroelectric dam project in the South Waziristan tribal area. One of the hostages died in a botched rescue bid. Mehsud died last year when he blew himself up to avoid arrest. His brother, Baitullah Mehsud, is a leading Taliban commander in Pakistan's tribal regions who has been linked to a wave of suicide bombings following a deadly army raid on the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

Kingfisher To Launch Second LHR Flight

Kingfisher To Launch Second LHR
(NSI News Source Info) September 3, 2008: Kingfisher Airlines, which is launching its lone international flight from Bangalore to London Heathrow on Sept. 3, will launch its second flight to London from Mumbai in November. Sources say the Heathrow slot was given to it by KLM. Kingfisher is also said to have signed an agreement for maintenance with KLM, leading many to speculate that the carrier may be a candidate for membership in the SkyTeam Airline Alliance, of which Air France-KLM are members. The DAILY has learned it will soon be launching a flight from Bangalore to Singapore mid-September and to Hong Kong from Mumbai by Oct. 15 using an Airbus A330-200. The airline declined comment. The changing environment has led the carrier to rethink its fleet plans. It plans to convert five of its 10 Airbus A340-500 orders to A330-200s, while negotiations are said to be on to sell two of the remaining five A340s on order, leaving three. Three A330-200s have already been delivered, and the fourth is expected to arrive soon. According to sources, Kingfisher continues to evaluate its U.S route and may go the Jet Airways way of using a hub. Jet uses Brussels as its European hub. Kingfisher will find an able adversary on its route to Singapore in Singapore Airlines, which is planning to increase its flights from Delhi to 14 a week in the near future and looking to increase frequencies to Bangalore by the end of the year. SIA plans to operate double daily flights to Chennai and Bangalore, in addition to its current two daily frequencies to Mumbai.

Northrop Grumman's Company-Owned MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Unmanned Air System Takes Flight

Northrop Grumman's Company-Owned MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Unmanned Air System Takes Flight
(NSI News Source Info) SAN DIEGO - September 3, 2008: Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) prepares to move forward with selective demonstrations after conducting the first flight of its company-owned MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Unmanned Air System (VUAS) designated as "P6." The flight was conducted at the Webster Field Annex portion of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. P6 is part an on-going effort to expand upon the development capabilities of the MQ-8B Fire Scout. Northrop Grumman Corporation conducts the first flight of its company-owned MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Unmanned Air System (VUAS) designated as "P6." The flight was conducted at the Webster Field Annex portion of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. "The first flight of P6 is a significant milestone showing that the company-owned MQ-8B Fire Scout is ready to support system demonstrations with a variety of payloads. We look forward to the opportunity to use our modular mission payload architecture to accelerate the integration and evaluation of payloads while performing mission demonstrations," said Rick Crooks, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems P6 program manager. Near-term plans include integration and flights with a maritime radar, a second electro-optical/infrared payload and various U.S. Army payloads. The P6 demonstration program will follow rigorous systems engineering processes to ensure success. Payload integration for all demonstrations will take place at Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Development Center in San Diego. Demonstration flights will continue at Webster Field, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., and at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. The 20-minute first flight of P6 followed Fire Scout's routine Fully Autonomous Functional Flight (FAFF) mission plan of vehicle start, takeoff, flight, landing and shutdown. Upon command, the vehicle launched and proceeded to hover at the first pre-designated waypoint. The vehicle transitioned to forward flight, climbed out and moved through a series of waypoints. After capturing the final waypoint, the vehicle descended to a preprogrammed hover/hold position. Following the land command, the vehicle landed on the designated touchdown point. The successful mission concluded with an autonomous shutdown. The flight was commanded from a Tactical Control Station (TCS) with software produced by Raytheon Systems Corporation in Falls Church, Va. Other key Fire Scout industry team members and contributors include: Cubic Defense Applications, FLIR Systems, Inc., GE Fanuc, GE Aviation, Kearfott Inc., Lockheed Martin Corporation, Rockwell Collins, Kell-Strom, Crater Industries, Swift Engineering, Red Barn Machine, Rolls-Royce Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Schweizer Aircraft Corporation. Northrop Grumman's MQ-8B Fire Scout will provide unprecedented situational awareness and precision targeting support for Armed Forces of the future. Fire Scout can find tactical targets, track and designate targets, accurately provide targeting data to strike platforms and perform battle damage assessment. With vehicle endurance greater than eight hours, Fire Scout will be capable of continuous operations, providing coverage 110 nautical miles from any launch site. Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense and technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.

Indian AF Buys Spyder Air-Defense Missiles

Indian AF Buys Spyder Air-Defense Missiles (NSI News Source Info) NEW DELHI - September 3, 2008: Israeli company Rafael has been awarded a $260 million contract by the Indian Air Force for 18 Spyder Low Level Quick Reaction Missiles (LLQRM). The contract was inked Sept. 1, a senior Indian Defence Ministry official said. Rafael was shortlisted to supply the missiles against France's MBDA early last year. However, the contract was delayed, mainly due to opposition from India's leftist parties, Defence Ministry sources said. The deliveries of the Spyder missiles will begin in 2½ years and be completed within four, the ministry official said. The contract will not include any mandatory defense offsets, the official said. The Israeli-developed Spyder system is based on Rafael's Python 5 passive infrared and Derby active radar-guided air-to-air missiles, with an effective range of 15 kilometers. The system uses an Elta search radar, an Indian Air Force official said. The system is built as a quick-reaction surface-to-air missile defense system against aircraft, UAVs, and even precision-guided missiles, according to the makers. The request for proposals was sent in mid-2005 to France, Israel, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. India began looking to foreign firms after the Trishul LLQRM system developed by its state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization was rejected by the Army, Navy and Air Force.

DIA Official Defends Russia-Georgia Reporting

DIA Official Defends Russia-Georgia Reporting (NSI News Source Info) September 3, 2008: The Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA's) top analyst says the U.S. agency provided Bush administration officials with ample warning that the simmering tensions between Georgia and Russia could erupt in fighting. In the wake of fighting that broke out between the two nations, including a massive Russian offensive deep within Georgian territory, many observers have wondered why U.S. and western officials failed to predict Moscow was ready to launch an massive assault on Georgia. And while Robert Cardillo, DIA's deputy director of analysis, said he had to pull analysts from other desks when the conflict broke out Aug. 7, he also defended DIA's reporting on the situation before that day. "I wouldn't say we were caught flat-footed," he said during an Aug. 27 interview. "I feel pretty good, from what I know now, about the reporting that we did and the intel community did ahead of" the conflict, which saw Russia occupy much of western Georgia by the third day. Cardillo repeatedly noted that his agency's job is to "set the table," by providing information about developments in the proper context and with informed analysis of what might happen next, for policy-makers. "We have a lot of debates about how far you can take a policy-maker," he said. "They have lots of information coming in." Some former national security officials have said it appears the U.S. president and his team were caught off guard when Moscow ordered its troops to pound Georgia after the former Soviet state went into South Ossetia, a breakaway province, to allegedly take out separatist fighters. "There certainly were plenty of indicators that business was picking up in the Ossetia border region," said Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. One of the largest signs, Kuchins said, came in the weeks before the conflict broke out. Russian troops held what he called "a major exercise" in the region, but with a catch: "The troops never left." Another came Aug. 7, when a group of U.S. military trainers showed up for a session with Georgian troops only to find their cohorts nowhere to be found, Kuchins said. "That should have caused someone to ask: 'Where are they and what the hell are they doing?'" he added. He called it "a mystery" why the Bush administration and its western allies appeared blind to the possibility that Russia would respond so forcefully. Making matters worse, Kuchins said, as Russia was moving in, televisions around the world showed "George Bush sitting with Vladimir Putin at the Beijing Olympics," he said. He was referring to the American president and the Russian prime minister. Putin was until several months ago the Russian president and it is widely believed he still is the puppet master inside the Kremlin. Cardillo said he could not "speak to what [administration] officials knew or how well informed they were. "If you asked senior officials if they read that report or that cable from DIA, the answer is probably going to be no," the DIA analysis chief said. "They get large books in the morning to read every day. They're busy folks." Another culprit for what some call a lack of understanding by American analysts and a slow response from the White House could have stemmed from daily monitoring of the long history of Russian-Georgian tensions, which never led to serious fighting, Cardillo said. "The Georgia-Russia issue has been there for some time," Cardillo said. "There could have been a sense of complacency" throughout the U.S. national security apparatus, he added. A long list of analysts and former security officials around the globe, in public statements and think tank white papers on both the conflict and the American response, have questioned western leaders' collective shock because Russia had massed tens of thousands of troops, as well as massive numbers of vehicles and weapons along its border with South Ossetia. The DIA official responded to such questions by stating analysts following such years-long tensions might have based their predictions on what would happen if Georgia sent its troops into the province on past patterns. And never before had Russia responded by starting a war, he noted. He said U.S. intelligence analysts likely took viewed the situation this way: "'Oh, we've seen this cycle before. Artillery shells cause this reaction. And then, this will happen. Georgia will move here, Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, will say a few things. Russia will respond with an exercise north of the border. There will be overflight issues.'" Kuchins said that sounds like a likely scenario, based on conversations with some intel community insiders. Although Cardillo expressed confidence in DIA's - and the broader intel community's - reporting before fighting broke out, the agency will review its performance. "We will ask if we missed something, and did we use the information in a way that was useful to the policy-makers. We will ask if policy-makers saw these reports, if they made a difference in their decision-making processes, and if they were aware of the warning that had been provided," he said. "I relish after-action reports. They're healthy. "In the grand scheme, if it was at some levels [of the administration] a surprise, then we need to relook at how we do business," Cardillo said. DIA had only "a couple people who had maintained situational awareness and had an in-depth understanding of that region," he said. That is the result of an effort, conducted "in the open" and with approval of senior defense and intel officials, to build up "analytic rigor" of other hot spots in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, Cardillo said. In the 1980s, the agency devoted about 80 percent of its personnel to studying the Soviet threat. While Cardillo said he will not build his Russian "bench strength" back to that Cold War-era level, he will beef it up as Moscow continues moving toward a stance that is more and more hostile toward the U.S. and Europe. "I will not ramp back down to two," he said. Kuchins said such an increase is sorely needed and speculated DIA probably has a far greater number of analysts studying China. "The right number is somewhere between two and 80 percent, but certainly higher than two," Kuchins said. Cardillo grouped Russia with Bush administration nemesis Iran, saying those are two nations on which DIA plans to "increase its analytic rigor." Analysts around the world are signaling that would be a wise move as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin continue ramping up its rhetoric and hostile actions against the west. Putin told the Russian parliament earlier this summer that it should continue funding the Kremlin's desired annual military spending increases because "only a battle-ready [and] well-equipped military with strong morale can defend" the nation. But, as some defense experts have noted, Washington was an easy target for criticism no matter how it handled the conflict. "From the start of the crisis, the U.S. was in a lose-lose situation: It would not risk engagement in military action against Russia, and so Georgia lost its faith in the viability of American support," wrote Alexis Crow, an analyst at the London-based Royal United Services Institute's International Security Studies Department, in a recent report. "Now Washington is in a diplomatic quandary with its European allies, and it remains to be seen how the Bush administration will approach it."

Pakistan poses US policy headache

Pakistan poses US policy headache (NSI News Source Info) September 3, 2008: Pakistan's border regions are a haven for militantsThe foreign-policy challenges are coming thick and fast for America's presidential hopefuls these days - providing a sharp reminder to us all that the new man in the White House will find himself handling pressing issues in some of the world's most dangerous and unpredictable trouble spots. First came the crisis over South Ossetia which challenged both John McCain and Barack Obama to explain how they would balance the Westernising ambitions of former communist states like Georgia against the hard reality that a resurgent Russia remains at least a regional super-power. Now there is the resignation of Pervez Musharraf - the Pakistani military strongman who ignored the differences of opinion within his turbulent Muslim country and declared it to be an ally of the United States in the "war on terror". The threat of a new Cold War with the Russians has been making headlines around the world, but the upheaval in Islamabad is potentially even more destabilising. Washington's approval Something in the Musharraf approach clearly struck a chord with George W Bush - at a practical level it would have been almost impossible for the US to conduct effective operations in Afghanistan without the co-operation of neighbouring Pakistan. Pakistan is probably the most difficult issue the next president will face... it is unclear who's on which side at any given time. American foreign policy analyst But the Pakistani leader's personal style dovetailed neatly with the Bush approach to politics too - both men liked the idea of following simple strategies based on big ideas, rather than troubling themselves with the detailed issues of day-to-day politics. On the face of it, that made Pervez Musharraf a familiar figure on the American political stage - the military strongman who while not himself a democrat, was nonetheless a keen supporter of the world's most powerful democracy and whose support was rewarded with American aid - around $10bn in this case. He is not the first such figure to alienate huge sections of his own population in pursuit of Washington's approval and friendship. Difficult issue The reason why Pakistan is so different - and so difficult - for the United States is because within its own institutions of power there are competing impulses about where the country's true interests lie. One American foreign policy analyst put it like this: "Pakistan is probably the most difficult issue the next president will face. It is both a victim of Jihadist terrorism - as with the assassination of Mrs Bhutto - and a sponsor and safe haven of Jihadist terrorism and it is unclear who's on which side at any given time." There are clear indications that elements within the Pakistani Intelligence Services (the ISI) support the resurgent Taleban - only last month the CIA presented Pakistan's government with evidence that its intelligence agents assisted a suicide bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. That has to be balanced against the fact that Pakistani agents have arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda suspects in recent years, including a number of key players who were handed on into US custody. Anti-Americanism It is a sobering thought for Americans that even under a pro-Western military strongman, Pakistan to some extent faced both ways in the "war on terror". Under a democratically-elected coalition government, the country might become an even more complex and ambiguous partner. President Bush rewarded Pervez Musharraf's support with $10bn aid. President Bush was quick to stress the importance to America of working with the new Pakistani leadership, but the challenge for the next president is to persuade the new regime in Islamabad to remain focussed on the "war on terror". The American hope is that a democratically-elected government will be a more natural partner than a military dictatorship, but it is far from certain that things will work out that way. In the fractious and sometimes dangerous world of Pakistani politics, the coalition may well find itself pre-occupied with its own survival. And it will have to be mindful of a strong streak of anti-Americanism in Pakistan which is not entirely confined to Islamic fundamentalists. Pakistani-Afghan border So President Bush, and whoever follows him into the White House, will need to be subtle and determined if they are to keep the new Pakistan somehow involved in the America-led alliance which fights the "war on terror". Washington has poured aid into Pakistan in recent years - and picks up the bills for keeping the Pakistani Army deployed in the tribal areas around the country's border with Afghanistan - but there have been signs lately that the Americans do not believe they are getting good value out of this proxy war. Many Pakistanis in turn resent the idea that their army is being paid to operate on behalf of the United States. That is just one complicating factor in an area which will become more important if a future President Obama or President McCain makes good their stated intentions to step up American deployment in Afghanistan and raise the profile of the US campaign there. It will be difficult for America to step up operations in Afghanistan without being sure that the Pakistani-Afghan border is secure - and that will only happen if US relations with both the Pakistani military and the new civilian government are good. The presidential hopefuls will find themselves tested with questions about all sorts of trouble spots around the world in the next few months - none is more important than this.

Russia shuts down consulate in Georgia

Russia shuts down consulate in Georgia (NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - September 3, 2008: The consular department at Russia's embassy in Georgia will shut down on Wednesday following Tbilisi's formal announcement that it is to cut diplomatic ties with Russia, the embassy's press attache said. "The Russian Embassy's consular service is halting its operations as of today in accordance with the Georgian government's decision to sever diplomatic ties with Russia," Alexander Savinov said. Savinov said visa applications that had already been submitted would be considered as usual. Georgia officially announced that it was cutting diplomatic relations with Russia on Tuesday. Savinov also said it was still being discussed when exactly Russian embassy staff would leave Tbilisi, saying that, "As yet there is no firm date." Georgia's move to cut ties was a response to Russia's recognition on August 26 of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. The decision to recognize them came after an attack by Georgia on breakaway South Ossetia on August 8 and alleged preparations for an attack on Abkhazia. Moscow subsequently launched an operation to "force Georgia to peace." The operation was concluded on August 12. Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Tbilisi in the early 1990s, and most of their citizens were granted Russian citizenship in the early 2000s. Russia's foreign minister said Moscow could review the issue of visits by Georgians to Russia now that diplomatic ties have been severed, saying that in the current situation leaving things as they were "would be hard to understand," Sergei Lavrov said. He also said that Georgia's move to cut diplomatic ties would take a heavy toll on the great many Georgians living and working in Russia

Russia 'ready to rebuild ties with U.S.' despite Georgia support

Russia 'ready to rebuild ties with U.S.' despite Georgia support (NSI News Source Info) SOCHI - September 3, 2008: Russia's president has said the country is ready to repair damaged relations with the United States despite Washington's support for the regime in Georgia. The United States has strongly criticized Russia for its role in the recent Georgia conflict and its recognition of the country's breakaway regions, and has pledged support for the Georgian leadership, which Russia has ceased to acknowledge. Dmitry Medvedev told news channel Euronews on Tuesday that tensions in relations with the U.S. "are the consequence of not entirely reasonable policies on the part of the U.S. toward Georgia." He said the U.S., which has provided substantial military and political support to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, has given him carte blanche to act as he chooses. "The result of this is evident... There is now a certain annoyance in the U.S. that this virtual 'Free Georgia' project didn't succeed. The leader went bankrupt, the regime is close to crisis, and the situation is tense." That the sooner the U.S. resolves this problem, the better for Russian-U.S. relations, he said. "We are ready for them to be restored in the best possible way, we are ready for fully functioning relations with the U.S.," he said.

Medvedev assures Europe its gas supplies are safe

Medvedev assures Europe its gas supplies are safe (NSI News Source Info) SOCHI - September 3, 2008: Russia will meet all its commitments to supply natural gas to European Union member states, President Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with the news channel Euronews. "We will of course fully meet our obligations as a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe," Medvedev told the channel on Tuesday, a day after the EU postponed talks on a new partnership deal with Russia, demanding that the country pull all remaining troops out of Georgia. EU leaders, who met for an emergency summit in Brussels on Monday, stopped short of taking tough measures against Russia, despite calls from Britain and former Eastern Bloc states. The prospect of sanctions against Moscow had sparked fears in Europe of retaliatory measures from Russia, which meets over 40% of the EU's gas needs. Medvedev said the dispute with the EU was partly due to a misunderstanding. "Unfortunately, the EU did not fully understand what motivated the Russian Federation to make decisions on repelling the Georgian aggression and recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as countries," he said. On the same day, Medvedev told Italian RAI television that Russia did not fear expulsion from the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. "The G8 would be practically unable to function without Russia, because it can make decisions only if they reflect the opinion of main global economies and leading global political players. This is why we do not fear being expelled." Russia officially recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia on August 26, saying the move was needed to protect the regions following Georgia's attack on South Ossetia. The EU leaders on Monday pledged to strengthen economic and political ties with Georgia, and condemned Russia's decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Malaysia sends troops to protect ships in Gulf of Aden: report

Malaysia sends troops to protect ships in Gulf of Aden: report (NSI News Source Info) KUALA LUMPUR - September 3, 2008: Malaysia has sent crack troops and navy ships to the Gulf of Aden after two of its vessels were seized by pirates last month, according to reports on Wednesday. The comments by deputy premier Najib Razak come after the country's shipping giant MISC Berhad said on Tuesday it had barred its vessels from the area, where two of its tankers were hijacked by armed pirates in August. The area has seen a spate of attacks in recent weeks, with eight ships taken by pirates since the end of July. "Our primary concern is the safety of our sailors," Najib was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper. Malaysia's armed forces chief said the military had sent two warships to the Gulf of Aden last Saturday to monitor the situation, the Star reported. Najib told the paper that negotiations between the pirates and representatives from MISC had not progressed much, with troops and naval vessels sent to protect another four of MISC's ships in the area. The Bunga Melati 5 with 41 crew -- 36 Malaysians and five from the Philippines -- was seized last Friday off the coast of Yemen carrying 30,000 metric tonnes of petrochemicals. Ten days earlier, the palm oil tanker Bunga Melati Dua, with 39 crew on board, was hijacked off the coast of Somalia. MISC said late Tuesday it had finally been able to regain radio contact with the Bunga Melati 5.Malaysia's foreign ministry has set up a special unit to monitor the situation while appealing to authorities in both Yemen and Somalia to ensure the crew's release, state news agency Bernama reported.It said the pirates had reportedly demanded a ransom of three million dollars for the return of the two ships and crew.

Pakistan: US gunship helicopters attack South Waziristan - 15 dead

Pakistan: US gunship helicopters attack South Waziristan - 15 dead (NSI News Source Info) WANA - September 3, 2008: At least 15 people, including women and children, were killed in South Waziristan on Wednesday in an attack a security official and a witness said was carried out by US forces from Afghanistan. The attack involving helicopters took place in the village of Angor Adda in the South Waziristan region, they said.Pakistani military spokesmen, and US military spokesmen in Afghanistan, were not immediately available for comment. The United States says al Qaeda and Taliban militants are based in sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border. There were differing accounts of the pre-dawn attack on Wednesday with some people saying it was carried out by helicopter gunships while others spoke of an attack by ground troops as well." Troops came in helicopters and carried out action in three houses at around 3 a.m. (2100 GMT)," said Gul Nawaz, a shopkeeper in the village. Security and government officials put the death toll at 15 but residents of the village said it could be as high as 17. US-operated pilotless drone aircraft have launched attacks in Pakistani border regions several times this year, killing dozens of militants, but US ground troops have not been known to cross into Pakistan to fight militants.