Sunday, September 25, 2011

Czech Republic going strong

The Czech Air Force has been leasing their JAS 39C/D Gripen since 2005. And the pilots and technicians has truly shown that they have mastered their new aircraft. During these years they have been transforming from old Mig-21 to a 4:th generation aircraft with datalinks and swingrole capability (possible to change mission type from air-to-air to air-to-ground while airborne.

If you ask a Czech pilot or technician they are very proud of what they have achieved during these six years. This is clearly shown in the popular yearly 211 squadron Gripen calendar. In Sweden the Gripen PR-staff is blushing, these type of pictures are not allowed in Sweden any more. But who cares, everyone else likes these calendars!

- During 2009 they took part in NATO QRA - Quick Readiness Alert over the Baltic countries. With only 14 Gripen aircraft in the Air Force they managed not only to have two aircraft plus one spare in high alert over the Baltic Sea. At the same time they had two more aircraft plus one spare in NATO QRA over the Czech Republic! The aircraft in the Baltic QRA performed more Aplha Alerts than any other NATO country that has taken part in the Baltic QRA. This is good example of the availablility and easy maintenance of the Gripen. The German Air Force took over after the Czech Republic with their new Eurofighters. They could however not get their aircraft working after landing so they asked the Czech to keep their Gripen at the base for another day. A few days later the Eurofighters were replaced with old F-4 Phantoms!

- In 2010 the 211 squadron won the Tiger Meet Trophy as best squadron. This clearly show that the squadron know how to use their aircraft and that they and their aircraft are fully NATO-compatible.

The Gripen squadron has been very busy "painting" their aircraft!

- In 2010 the Czech Air Force also reached 10.000 flying hours produced in their Gripen aircraft. This indicates that they are producing more than 2000 flying hour per year or more than 145 flying hours per aircraft. Since they currently not use Air to Air refuelling this indicates many sorties per year for each aircraft. Also a good indication of the availability of the Gripen.

The Czech Air Force have only 14 Gripen (2xJAS39D two-seater and 14xJAS39C one-seater), but they are producing a lot of flying hours each year. As a fact when it comes to producing flying hours per air craft they are the top-producing Gripen user in the world. One result is that Major Otokar Prickner recently became the first non-swedish Gripen pilot that reached 1000 flying hours in the Gripen!

As a complement to the Gripen, the Czech Air Force have one squadron with Aero Vodochny L-59 "Elka" or "Super Albatros" as they are known in the west.

The Czech Air Force focus on air-to-air missions and thay are very good at it. Armed with AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9M Sidewinder and 27mm Mauser guns the Gripen is a very potent fighter. The Czech government has decided that the air force shall focus on homeland defence and NATO QRA.

The existing Gripen leasing contract ends in 2015. Lockheed Martin is doing their best to sell updated F-16 aircraft to the Czech politicians. But I believe that if the pilots have anything to say about it, they would like to go on using their Gripen. After all, why change aircraft when you have invested a lot of years and money to learn about how to use the existing Gripen aircraft and when the one you have is working very well?

Read more at the 211 squadron homepage.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lundin Oil, Swedish bad boy

Two Swedish journalists, Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, are facing long prison sentences in Ethiopia. They were caught 1 July 2011 together with members of the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) guerrilla. But what were they doing in Ethiopia? In a letter to a friend they say they were investigating the Swedish oil company Lundin Petroleum business in the Ogaden Province. Lundin Petroleum used to be involved i a project to find Natural Gas and most likely they are working closely with the government. Today Lundin Oil is no longer present in the area, but Africa Oil is and they are part of the Lundin Petroleum business group. In Sweden Africa Oil is recommended by financial experts (E24, Privata Affärer) to be a good company to invest money into. Money is always money, blood money or not.

Lundin Petroleum (previously Lundin Oil) has been involved in many shady projects around the world. In Sudan they have been accused to be part in the genocide in the area. Not actively of course, but they have been working together with groups that were involved in the civil wars. Anyway, Lundin Petroleum was last year investigated by the Swedish court if the were involved in crimes against humanity.

Mohammed Hussein has written an article on the Swedish Newsmill. His theory is the the Ethiopian government want to cover up all evidence regarding crimes against humanity and genocide in the area. A New York Times journalist, Geffrey Gettleman, wrote an article about Ogaden in 2007. Here is a video from his visit in the area.

Even so, the State Department, the European Parliament and many human rights groups, mostly outside Ethiopia, have cited thousands of cases of torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings — enough to raise questions in Congress about American support of the Ethiopian government.

“This is a country that is abusing its own people and has no respect for democracy,” said Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa and global health.

“We’ve not only looked the other way but we’ve pushed them to intrude in other sovereign nations,” he added, referring to the satellite images and other strategic help the American military gave Ethiopia in December, when thousands of Ethiopian troops poured into Somalia and overthrew the Islamist leadership.

The violence in areas like Ogaden risk to turn the locals to more radical groups with connections to Islamist terrorist organisations. This is the official reason to why USA is working together with the Ethiopian government. But maybe this campaign is what causing the Islamist groups to grow? The real reasons behind the US involvement might not only be to stop terror, but also to get access to the oil? In Sweden a lot of people accuse USA to focus their military campaigns in regions where there are money to be made on natural resources. But maybe Sweden is not much better than USA?

The journalists were writing a report that were going to be published in Swedish papers. The Magazine "Filter" was maybe one potential client, but refuses to acknowledge this. Mattias Göransson, the publisher of "Filter" say that they were contacted by the journalists before they went to Ethiopia, but warned them against travelling there since the risks simply were to big.

The Committee to Protect Journalists does not think he Swedish journalists will face a fair trial. Without diplomatic help from Sweden they will be sent to prison, guilty or not.

However, the Swedish foreign ministry are not doing very much in the case to free the journalists. It just so happens that the Swedish minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Carl Bildt, previously was a member of the board in Lundin Oil between 2000-2006! Maybe this is one reason to why the Swedish diplomats are using their world famous "silent" diplomacy. In this case very silent. If there are questions raised regarding how Lundin Petroleum act in he area, this might very well be sensitive to the Swedish government since Mr Bildt was part of the board when Lundin Petroleum was active in Ethiopia. There are many questions in his case and very few answers.

P.S: There is another very similar case. The swedish/eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak has been in a Eritrean prison for 3643 days and counting. Lundin Oil also have interests in Eritrea and the Swedish department of foreign affairs does not do very much to free Dawit. "Silent diplomacy" again according to their press releases. Just a coincidence? More questions and no answers...

Read more: The Swedish journalist Kerstin Lundell received the Swedish press award "The Golden Shovel" in 2010 for her book "Affärer i blod och olja" (business in blood and oil) about Lundin Oil.

HD, ETC, SvD1, SvD2, SvD3, Fokus, DN1, DN2, DN3

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Israel, soon without friends?

The conflict between Turkey and Israel regarding the Isreali atack on the Gaza convoy last year goes on. The UN has in a report stated that it was OK to stop the convoy, but that they used too much force in their attack.

Last year’s Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla was “excessive and unreasonable” according to a U.N. panel that also blamed Turkey and flotilla organizers for contributing to the deaths of nine activists.

And it is not only the Gaza incident that is discussed between Turkey and Israel. They used to have a lot of cooperation when it comes to aircraft modifications. But this cooperation seem also to at an end.

"Israel has shown disloyalty in our bilateral agreements in the defense industry area," Erdogan told reporters, referring to a military agreement on the purchase of Israeli drones by Turkey.

"For example, unmanned aerial vehicles were purchased and they were sent back for further maintenance. They (the Israelis) are still delaying the delivery. Is this moral ?", Erdogan asked.

The result of all this is that Israel has almost lost all of their hard to find allies in he region. In Egypt the attack on the Israeli embassy was condemned by the UN, but anyway it also indicate a more harsh climate between Israel and Egypt in he future. The new government is by the people and will probably listen more closely on what the people say in order to not meet the same fate as the previous government.

But the troubles in a second diplomatic mission in a week following a fallout in relations with Turkey underscores Israel's precarious position as ties with its two key regional allies are recast.

Against the backdrop of tense relations with the White House, the shift heightens the stakes for Israel as it braces for a diplomatic onslaught at the United Nations next week. That is when Palestinians plan to mount a statehood bid, raising the possibility of an outbreak of mass protests on Israel's borders.

Some Israeli experts suggested that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who is set to visit Cairo on Monday, and Egypt's military rulers could overcome their historic rivalry and cooperate to on further isolating Israel.
"This should be very disturbing to us…there is a question about our place in the Middle East,'' said Ami Ayalon, a former head of Israel's Shin Bet Intelligence Service, in an interview with Israel Radio. "The Egypt that was the bedrock on which we founded our strategy has disappeared.'

Two lost allies in one year! And the relationship with USA can also be questioned. US military is looking more and more into using Turkey as their strong haven in the Middle East. Turkey has a lot of interests in northern Iraq and when US forces leave Iraq, someone need to take more responsibility in the area. This someone might very well be Turkey. Also the situation in Syria might result in the next Libya-alike operation for USA and NATO. If so then Turkey would be the ideal base of operations.

This might explain the ongoing discussions to base US Predator UAV:s in Turkey. They will of course be used to monitor the situation in neighboring Iraq and Syria.

The US military has flown unarmed Predators from Iraqi bases since 2007, sharing their surveillance video with Turkey as part of a secretive crackdown against fighters from the Kurdistan Workers? Party (PKK), the report said.

But the counterterrorism partnership could end by December 31, when all US forces are scheduled to withdraw from Iraq.
Previously undisclosed diplomatic cables show Turkey has become highly dependent on the Predators, U-2 spy aircraft and other US intelligence sources in its military campaign against the PKK, The Post said.

Turkey need US support in the fight against PKK and to monitor the situation in Iraq and Syria. US need Turkish bases to continue with their presence in the Middle East and to make it possible to leave Iraq as Obama has promised his voters (remember the US presidential election next year). Israel might have a very strong lobbying organisation in the US Senate, but right now USA does not need Israel as much as they used to do during the Cold War when the neighboring countries were supported by the Soviet Union. If I were the Israeli leaders I would do a lot to make the relation with Turkey work again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

South African Future

In Swedish press there has been many critical articles regarding the sales of Gripen to South Africa, a nation that need all its money to develop the country. But, who are we to decide what is best for other countries?

Of course there is a need for development in South Africa. There are a lot of poor people, many of them refugees from Zimbabwe, and the criminal activity is very high. When you drive your car around the neighborhoods of Pretoria you can´t avoid to notice the palisades and the barbed wire around every house together with signs stating that intruders will be shot. But at the same time there has also been many improvements. In Soweto the government has built new houses to reduce the "Shanty Town". Unfortunately as soon as one South African moves out of his barrack to a house a family from Zimbabwe moves in.

There are still internal conflicts in South Africa even after the removal of Apartheid. The racial problems are not yet fully solved. Today the white population feels threatened by new laws. The government has introduced new guidelines for accepting students to higher educations. Each ethnical group (white, black etc.) has a number of available spots at the Universities proportional to the percentage of the population. But since white students by tradition and due to the fact that they are more often from richer families, have better grades from the basic schools, they feel cheated since students with lesser grades get accepted when they are not. The South African president Jacob Zuma has also ideas about transferring the ownership of farms from the white to the black population. But the situation in Zimbabwe may have made him change his mind about this. Many whites, also in the armed forces, are leaving South Africa since they feel they have no future in South Africa.

ANC starting with Nelson Madela has done their best to make the different ethnical groups feel like one. Football and Rugby has done a lot to achieve this goal, but there is still a long way to go.

Maybe it should be enough for South Africa to focus on the domestic problems. But, one reason to why the criminal activity is high and to why Soweto still is expanding is the refugees from Zimbabwe. Africa is a turbulent region with many border conflicts. South Africa therefore need to stabilize its borders and maybe even the surrounding countries as well as stabilize the internal conflicts.

This is also the reason to why South Africa a few years ago decided to modernize its armed forces including buying the Gripen. However, lack of money in the defence budget has resulted in that the South African Air Force has not yet reached the number of yearly flying hours and trained pilots that was planned. But maybe this will be changed with the new South African Defence Review?

South Africa is carrying out its first defence policy review in 13 years in a bid to address new security threats such as shipping piracy, the defence minister said Tuesday.
Threats like piracy and border security were not included in the last review, in 1998, and significant portions of that report were "completely outdated", she said.
South Africa's annual defence budget currently stands at 38.4 billion rand ($5.4 billion, 3.8 billion euros), and Sisulu has been vocal in calling for an increase.
"I think all of what is happening today on the continent, in the north of Africa and in the Middle East, have to be part of what we need to take notice of as far as the forecast is concerned."
The new review, which has a 6.2-million-rand budget for the year, will be presented to President Jacob Zuma's cabinet and parliament.

I believe that the Armed Forces of South Africa are very frustrated to have all this new equipment and not being able to take part in the removal of Ghadaffi in Libya or the hunt for pirates in the Gulf of Aden. The South African Air Force has a long tradition and has taken part in many wars. Their experience in electronic warfare and Infra-Red technology are world class. Since South Africa was locked out from international cooperation (with the exception of Israel and France) during the Apartheid years, they needed to develop technology of their own. Very much in the same way as Sweden during the Cold War, but for other reasons. The South African/Brazilian A-Darter IR-missile is very closely related to the Israeli Python 5 since they both share their "ancestors". Unfortunately the new focus on the bribes involved in the armor deals may change all this to the worse.

South Africa want to be a local power south of the equatorial line. The African Union - AU has sent a lot of troops to different hot zones in Africa, but historically the will to remove dictators has been since many African leaders are dictators themselves. But Ghadaffi seems to have lost all his powerful friends in Africa. His family has fled to Algeria, but are not welcome.

Maybe the conflic in Libya will result in a more active AU? If so, then South Africa will most likely take active part. Maybe the mission in Libya will not be the last for Gripen fighters?