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Russia’s military is proving just how dangerous it really is (and testing new weapons)

While some improvements are certainly significant, the Russian military has yet to shed nor improve upon some of its older habits from past conflicts

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(The National Interest) – Russia this month announced another draw-down from its combat operations in Syria, which began on Sept. 30, 2015. The Russian military will retain troops in the country, likely indefinitely, where it has demonstrated the capabilities of new weapons and tactics — which together show it has learned from its shortcomings in past operations.

Nevertheless, as experts told War Is Boring, many of the Russian military’s old habits were also on display throughout this campaign.

It’s no secret that Russia used its military campaign to both demonstrate and test hardware, and furnish its forces with some actual combat experience. In March 2016, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin said that combat operations in Syria are the best form of training for his country’s armed forces.

“The Russians quickly began to see Syria as a testing ground for various weapon systems that hadn’t been used in combat before as well as an opportunity to give various branches of the military experience in an actual war zone,” Michael Kofman, a specialist on the Russian military at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, told War Is Boring.

This included Russia firing its ship and submarine-launched Kalibr cruise missiles into Syria, all the way from the Caspian and Mediterranean Sea, and long-range Russian Tu-95MS and Tu-160 strategic bombers — flying from Russia itself — striking targets with Kh-555 and new Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles.

Russian combat aircraft in Syria averaged 40-50 sorties per day, with peaks as high as 100 such as which occurred in January 2016. Russia achieved this without deploying more than 30-50 combat aircraft and 16-40 helicopters to Syria throughout the campaign, which Kofman notes is a much smaller deployment than the Soviets had in Afghanistan. Mechanical failures and combat losses in the air been “magnitudes less than previous Russian or Soviet air operations,” Kofman added.

Russia only lost a small number of aircraft, largely due to the success of Russian technicians who kept both new Russian aircraft and Soviet-era aircraft based in Syria airborne — an exception being the recent loss of a single Su-24M2 to mechanical failure on Oct. 10. The most well-known loss of a Russian plane during the war was the 2015 shootdown of an Su-24M by a Turkish F-16.

This is illustrative of improved flexibility in the Russian military, which has demonstrated it can achieve more with fewer forces than past in past wars.

Neil Hauer, an expert on Russia-Syria relations who has followed the conflict closely, also pointed out some of the improvements the Russian military has demonstrated in Syria compared to past conflicts.

“I think there’s been an implicit focus on using fewer frontline units than in the Donbass conflict,” Hauer told War Is Boring. “While Russian army units were engaged in full frontline battles there, there’s been nothing of the sort in Syria. Instead, Russian forces have acted in support roles in the guise of advisers, light infantry (reconnaissance and artillery spotting), and air support. The only real combat roles to date have been played by Wagner [Group, private Russian] mercenaries.”

Hauer points out that Russia quickly adapted early on in Syria, re-scaling “their ambitions after realizing just how little offensive action pro-regime forces were capable of.”

“The first months of the Russian intervention saw broad attempts to advance on a number of fronts, but many of the results were disastrous — especially in north Hama, where the regime lost dozens of tanks in a few weeks for zero gain, despite heavy Russian strikes,” he noted. “Since then, Russia has largely focused on supporting one regime offensive at a time, while suppressing rebel and Islamic State forces elsewhere.”

Kofman pointed out that when Russia first intervened in Syria it worked to help the regime secure key roads, infrastructure and isolated Syrian bases – while destroying every piece of heavy military hardware they could find in opposition hands. Most of that hardware had been captured from the Syrian army.

While Russian initial airstrikes in late 2015 and early 2016 reportedly helped the Syrian regime recapture a mere two percent of its territory, air strikes were already having a decisive effect on the battlefield.

Kofman argues that the two percent figure proved misleading since control over territory in Syria has proven “elusive,” largely because local leaders sided with whoever seemed likely to win. Therefore, Russia helped “swing the balance in favour of Damascus” through its bombing campaign across Syria, along with its subsequent sponsorship of ceasefire arrangements between regime forces and the opposition.

Furthermore, the regime’s grip on most of the population centers in Syria and the depopulation of opposition-held areas explained how Russia went from helping Damascus regain a mere two percent of Syrian territory to “appearing the victor in the conflict in less than two years.”

More broadly Russia’s showcasing of hitherto unused hardware in Syria, particularly its long-range bombers and cruise missiles, demonstrated to NATO its long reach and potential to target the alliance’s military assets in Europe were war to break out between the two.

Dumb bombs

While these improvements are certainly significant, the Russian military has yet to shed nor improve upon some of its older habits from past conflicts.

Even though the Russian air campaign was certainly effective, it may have resulted in between 8,324 and 11,282 civilian deaths through February 2017, according to the conflict monitoring group Airwars.

“As well as inflicting excessive civilian casualties, Russia is credibly reported to have extensively targeted civilian infrastructure in Syria — with water treatment plants, bakeries, food distribution depots and aid convoys all struck,” Airwars noted. “Civilian areas were also systematically targeted across rebel-held territories, often on consecutive days.”

Many of Russia’s bombs had far greater payloads than necessary for their targets, Kofman noted. This indicates that Russia still, more-or-less, fights the same way it did in the early 1990s. The proportion of precision-guided weapons used by Russia in Syria amounts to “perhaps less than five percent” of the total, Kaufman said.

While its campaign in Syria proved that Russia is capable of using long-range guided weapons and also demonstrated other improvements in the air since its 2008 war with Georgia, it also revealed serious limitations.

For instance, Russia carried out most of its bombings in Syria with older Su-24M2 and Su-25SM aircraft, which lack targeting pods needed to drop precision-guided bombs. The use of newer Russian Su-34 Fullback multi-role fighters were the only exception to this general trend since they are capable of dropping KAB-500S satellite-guided bombs.

Furthermore, the ability of Russian warplanes to hit small, moving targets with precision-guided munitions has proven extremely limited. Instead, these aircraft relied on unguided weapons and bombs far too big for their intended targets, which Kofman describes as “overkill.”

As with its Soviet predecessor, the Russian military can maul its enemies “in close quarters, but continues to struggle when it comes to actually finding and seeing its intended targets,” Kaufman said.

Russia lagging in the production of drones also haven’t helped. While the Russian military does possess domestically-produced reconaissance and surveillance drones, along with some license-built Israeli models, it has no armed drones to speak of therefore lacks a “recon-strike capability,” Kaufman added.

Also Moscow’s use of naval aircraft in Syria failed to impress given the abysmal deployment of the aging Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in late 2016, which lost an Su-33 and a MiG-29K in accidents.

Overall, Russia’s campaign in Syria has been a mixed bag. It certainly showed improvements in tactics, strategy and capability. At the same time it demonstrated that Moscow has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to conducting conventional military operations beyond its vast frontiers.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here

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Russia Lures International Arms Buyers With Half-Priced, More Effective Missile System

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery.

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Via Zerohedge


Russia has been pitching a rival missile platform that costs half of those made by US companies, reports CNBC, which has resulted in several countries dealing with the Kremlin “despite the potential for blowback.”

Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery, while a THAAD battery made by Lockheed Martin costs just about $3 billion, according to people with first-hand knowledge of a US intelligence assessment.

Nearly 13 countries have expressed interest in buying Russia’s S-400, a move that could trigger potential U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which President Donald Trump signed in August 2017. In September, the U.S. slapped sanctions on China  for buying fighter jets and missiles from Russia. However, the U.S. could grant sanction waivers. –CNBC

Turkey, meanwhile, may be hit with US sanctions over their decision to purchase the S-400 defense system, which the United States says poses a risk to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

Meanwhile, India called the United States’ bluff over sanctions in late Ocotber, standing its ground in its decision to buy the S-400.

One of the reasons Russian systems are generally considered less expensive than their American counterparts is because they don’t include pricey ongoing maintenance.

“When foreign militaries buy American, above and beyond the purchase, they are buying a partnership with the U.S. military,” Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC. “And that plus the maintenance and technical assistance is a big part of the cost difference.

The S-400 system made its debut in 2007, succeeding the S-200 and S-300 missile systems. According to CNBC, “the Russian-made S-400 is capable of engaging a wider array of targets, at longer ranges and against multiple threats simultaneously,” vs. US-made systems.

In terms of capability, one source noted that while there is no perfect weapon, the S-400 eclipses even THAAD, America’s missile defense crown jewel.

When asked why nations seek to buy the S-400 instead of America’s Patriot or THAAD systems, one of the people with knowledge of the intelligence report explained that foreign militaries aren’t willing to stick with the cumbersome process of buying weapons from the U.S. government. –CNBC

“Many of these countries do not want to wait for U.S. regulatory hurdles,” said a CNBC source with first hand knowledge of the assessment. “The S-400 has less export restrictions and the Kremlin is willing to expedite sales by skipping over any regulatory hurdles.

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Britain’s Enemy Is Not Russia But It’s Own Ruling Class, UN Report Confirms

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

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Authored by John Wright. op-ed via RT.com:


As the UK political establishment rips itself to pieces over Brexit, a far greater crisis continues to afflict millions of victims of Tory austerity…

A devastating UN report into poverty in the UK provides incontrovertible evidence that the enemy of the British people is the very ruling class that has gone out of its way these past few years to convince them it is Russia.

Professor Philip Alston, in his capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spent two weeks touring the United Kingdom. He did so investigating the impact of eight years of one of the most extreme austerity programs among advanced G20 economies in response to the 2008 financial crash and subsequent global recession.

What he found was evidence of a systematic, wilful, concerted and brutal economic war unleashed by the country’s right-wing Tory establishment against the poorest and most vulnerable section of British society– upending the lives of millions of people who were not responsible for the aforementioned financial crash and recession but who have been forced to pay the price.

From the report’s introduction:

“It…seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”

Though as a citizen of the UK I respectfully beg to differ with the professor’s claim that such social and economic carnage seems “contrary to British values,” (on the contrary it is entirely in keeping with the values of the country’s Tory establishment, an establishment for whom the dehumanization of the poor and working class is central to its ideology), the point he makes about it being “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes,” is well made.

For it is now the case that in every town and city centre in Britain, it is impossible to walk in any direction for more than a minute before coming across homeless people begging in the street. And the fact that some 13,000 of them are former soldiers, casualties of the country’s various military adventures in recent years, undertaken in service to Washington, exposes the pious platitudes peddled by politicians and the government as reverence for the troops and their ‘sacrifice,’ as insincere garbage.

Overall, 14 million people in the UK are now living in poverty, a figure which translates into an entire fifth of the population. Four million of them are children, while, according to Professor Alston, 1.5 million people are destitute – that is, unable to afford the basic necessities of life.

And this is what the ruling class of the fifth largest economy in the world, a country that parades itself on the world stage as a pillar of democracy and human rights, considers progress.

The values responsible for creating such a grim social landscape are compatible with the 18th not 21st century. They are proof positive that the network of elite private schools – Eton, Harrow, Fettes College et al. – where those responsible for this human carnage are inculcated with the sense of entitlement and born to rule ethos that defines them, are Britain’s hotbeds of extremism.

Professor Alston:

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.”

Here, set out above in bold relief, is the barbarism that walks hand in hand with free market capitalism. It is the same barbarism that was responsible for pushing post-Soviet Russia into a decade-long economic and social abyss in the 1990s, and the values that have pushed 14 million people in the UK into the same economic and social abyss in our time.

Austerity, it bears emphasizing, is not and never has been a viable economic response to recession in a given economy.

Instead, it is an ideological club, wielded on behalf of the rich and big business to ensure that the price paid for said economic recession is borne exclusively by those least able to bear it – namely, the poor and working people. It is class war by any other name, packaged and presented as legitimate government policy.

However, in Britain’s case in 2018, this is a war like no other because, as Professor Philip Alston’s report lays bare, only one side in this war has been throwing all the punches and only one side has been taking them.

With Christmas season upon us, the scale of human suffering across the UK ensures that the elaborate ad campaigns inviting us to shop and indulge to our heart’s content – ads depicting the middle class dream of affluence and material comfort – take on the character of a provocation. In fact, they call to mind the truism that wars take place when the government tells you who the enemy is, while revolutions take place when you work it out for yourself.

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

 

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‘Iron’ Mike Pence Stares-Down Putin In APEC Showdown

Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were seen shaking hands and chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

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Via Zerohedge


Forget the All-Blacks ‘Haka’, ignore Foreman-Frasier, Drago-Balboa, and Ortiz-Liddell, the honor of the greatest (or perhaps most awkward) staredown in history now goes to US Vice President Mike Pence…

Having been blamed for everything from Trump’s election victory to USA soccer team’s loss to England last week, Russia faced accusations all weekend and was reportedly confronted by the US contingent over “meddling.”

As The Sun reports, Pence and Putin “discussed the upcoming G20 Summit and touched on the issues that will be discussed when President Trump and President Putin are both in Argentina for the summit,” according to the vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah.

An NBC reporter tweeted: “New per the @VP’s Office—> The VP’s office says Vice President Pence directly addressed Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a conversation with Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Singapore.

“The conversation took place following the plenary session this afternoon at ASEAN.”

But, it was the following clash of the titans that caught most people’s attention.

As the Russian president joined the that Pence shook Putin’s ‘deadly’ hand, met his ‘steely KGB-trained’ gaze, and desperately tried not to smile or blink for 20 seconds as Putin appeared to chat amicably with the US VP…

While Putin has (if his accusers are to be believed) grappled his opponents to death with his bare hands (remember he is a sinister KGB agent and jiu-jitsu expert); we suspect the only thing VP Pence has gripped tightly in his hands is his bible.

Sadly, John Bolton then blew the tough guy act (or is he Mike Pence’s ‘good cop’) as he does his best impression of a teenage girl meeting their popstar idol for the first time…

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